For those who watch college basketball on a regular basis, last night’s contest between Washington and UCLA simply served as more evidence to the fact that color commentator Bill Walton is not a fan of UCLA head coach Ben Howland.
During one exchange between Walton and play-by-play announcer Dave Pasch, as noted by Adam Zagoria of SNY, the Hall of Famer who played at UCLA for John Wooden stated that things would be different if he were in charge.
Pasch: “OK, well, that’s obvious. How do you play better basketball?”
Walton: “Better style.”
Pasch: “Alright, so, is that the coach? Is that the players?”
Walton: “It’s the coach.
Pasch: “So you’re not a Ben Howland fan?”
To Pasch’s credit he followed up with asking Walton whether or not Howland’s time in Westwood was running out, which is when Walton noted that things would be different if he were the one in charge.
Does that mean he would fire Howland if in the position of athletic director Dan Guerrero? He didn’t come out and use those words, but how different can things be without making such a move?
There’s no doubt that UCLA, who moved to 17-6 overall and 7-3 in Pac-12 play with the 59-57 win over the Huskies, has some talented players led by freshman Shabazz Muhammad. But what they don’t have is depth.
The decisions of Tyler Lamb and Joshua Smith opened things up in regards to guys getting more playing time, but it also left the Bruins with a rotation that at best has seven players. Freshman forward Tony Parker, who struggled with various injuries early in the season, still has not reached the point where he can contribute on a consistent basis.
Yet even with this lack of depth UCLA is averaging 71.3 possessions per 40 minutes, a number that ranks 26th nationally and first in the Pac-12 according to statsheet.com. That likely leads to the way in which Howland uses his timeouts, looking to conserve the legs of his most important players (four starters played 30 minutes or more last night), which has been another point of contention for Walton.
The Bruins are right in the thick of the Pac-12 race but there’s been the prevailing feeling that this group has “underachieved.” Maybe people have been spoiled by two things in evaluating this group: how dominant Kentucky’s youngsters were last season, and by how dominant Coach Wooden was during the glory years in Westwood.
With a second game against first-place Arizona in early March (UCLA won the first game in Tucson) the Bruins could very well end up winning the Pac-12, and there’s the NCAA tournament ahead of this group as well. But that doesn’t seem to be enough for some folks.