Ben Howland

UCLA rebounds from early-season woes to claim Pac-12 title

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After UCLA lost at home to Cal-Poly, we were all ready to send Ben Howland off to the broadcast booth.

Things still didn’t look so swell even after Shabazz Muhammad finally became eligible when Tony Parker  seemed to indicate that he was not entirely happy at UCLA.

Howland might be excused for asking “How you like me now?” today, after his team stayed the course, found some momentum, and nailed down the Pac-12 regular season title, winning 61-54 at Washington to finish the season 23-8 (13-5) and ranked No. 23 in the nation.

The circumstances of the win seemed to vindicate Howland’s decision to build his team around transfers and freshmen, a choice that seemed absurd when the season began. Against Washington, much-maligned former Tar Heel Larry Drew II made a crucial layup late, and frosh Jordan Adams came up with a steal and free throws down the stretch to slam the door. Shabazz Muhammad, who may be auditioning for his NBA close-up as we speak, was the leading scorer with 22 points.

Poise – a word not easily applied to the Bruin program over the past couple of years – won the day, and the season, for UCLA. The Bruins got it done when it mattered most, on the same day when Oregon choked away a shot at the title by losing to cellar-dwelling Utah.

Winning with freshmen and transfers might be John Calipari’s calling card at Kentucky, but he’s got competition from Westwood this year. Veteran play from Drew at the point makes UCLA – a 6-seed in Dave Ommen’s latest bracket predictions – a fair bet to move up the national rankings and the seed lines if they can hold serve in the Pac-12 tournament.

Could a top-4 seed be in the offing for the team that lost to Cal Poly this year? If so, they’ve earned it.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

POSTERIZED: Texas A&M-CC with an off-the-backboard dunk

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This is pretty nice from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, who has made a habit out of getting themselves on the highlight reel.

Here’s another angle of the dunk:

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me: