Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
What was supposed to be a year of explosive resurgence for UCLA basketball ended with a fizzle as the Bruins were blown out of the water by Minnesota in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Despite earning a 6-seed, UCLA (25-10) was listed as an underdog against the 11-seed Golden Gophers, much to the chagrin of the Bruins. But once Minnesota (21-12) took the floor on Friday, it became obvious rather quickly that the oddsmakers in Vegas knew what they were doing.
The Gophers, who haven’t been heralded as a lethal scoring team, shot a blistering 50.8 percent from the field, including a back-breaking 9-of-16 from behind the arc. Sophomore guard Andre Hollins was absolutely unstoppable for Minnesota, racking up 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists. As expected, senior forward Trevor Mbakwe cleaned up on the glass, tallying 12 rebounds to go with his nine points (4-of-7 shooting).
By halftime, Hollins and the Gophers built a 10-point cushion, thanks to a combination of their hot shooting and the Bruins’ shockingly poor performance. To sum it up, consider this: the first made bucket by a UCLA starter didn’t come until the 9:53 mark of the first half.
The Bruins’ starting five went 1-for-19 to begin the game, including 0-of-7 from star freshman Shabazz Muhammad. In all, UCLA shot just 31.7 percent from the field, and an ugly 4-for-22 from 3-point range. The scoring woes, coupled with an inability to stop Minnesota on defense, proved insurmountable for the paper-thin Bruins roster.
The 83-63 loss could have been the last game of Muhammad’s UCLA career, as the lefty sharpshooter is a projected lottery pick despite his season-long struggles. It also may have been head coach Ben Howland‘s last game at the helm for the Bruins, though all hot seat rumors are completely unsubstantiated at this point. Athletic director Dan Guerrero was quoted saying the following in regards to Howland’s job status after the loss.
"We’ll take stock in the next couple of days, and talk like we always do with all coaches."
Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
Guerrero was being intentionally vague, hoping to avoid chumming the water for the media sharks at the UCLA press conference. But it’s safe to say there is pressure from outside the athletic department pushing for Howland’s head, and Guerrero will have to take that into consideration. His words hardly inspire confidence in Howland’s future, so few would be surprised if there’s a new coach in Westwood next season.
Considering the insane hype in the preseason, UCLA’s Round of 64 bow-out has to be called a major disappointment. Winning the Pac-12 regular season title was nice, but the Bruins are expected to contend for national championships. It’s that simple.
With the top-ranked recruiting class and a core cast of returning players, Howland was supposed to get a lot more out of his team in 2013. Unfortunately, the pieces never quite came together, and one crippling injury marked the end.
The Bruin faithful are used to being let down; it comes with the territory of cheering for UCLA. But to have such a talented roster waffle in mediocrity for months is too much to handle. Get the torches and pitchforks ready, it’s going to be a long offseason for the mighty Bruins.
If Kyle Anderson chooses to return, and Tony Parker doesn’t transfer out, UCLA could have a good season in 2014. Whether or not Howland is in charge remains to be seen, but no matter who’s holding the clipboard, the True Blue fans will be there.