Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Howland Knows Firsthand Not To Take Belmont For Granted

By Bruin Basketball Report

When asked about his thoughts on how far his team could advance in the tournament, UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland kept to a single theme, “One game at a time.”

"All I care about is Belmont," Howland said. “They are a solid team.”

Certainly, the Belmont Bruins have racked up impressive offensive numbers this year, averaging 81.8 points per game (7th best in the nation), shooting over 50% from the floor (4th best in the nation), and hitting 38.2% from three-point distance.

But those statistics could be interpreted by some as inflated numbers, earned against feeble competition.

Belmont plays in an Atlantic Sun conference, which includes schools such as Gardner-Webb, Kennesaw, and Stetson - good academic centers but certainly not basketball powerhouses. With the low level of competition within the conference, its not surprising Belmont possesses an anemic strength of schedule rating of 239.

Subsequently, one wonders if coach Howland is just being polite and courteous to his Bruin-counterparts from Nashville when he says, “Belmont is a solid team, and we (UCLA) better be ready to play them.”

In truthfulness, Howland means every single word.

He is honestly concerned about UCLA's first-round game against Belmont, because at one time not long ago, he was the head coach of Northern Arizona - a No.15 seed team which almost upset a No.2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

In 1998 coach Ben Howland’s Northern Arizona Lumberjack team was selected to be the No.15 seed team in the West region, and were scheduled to play a heavily favored No.2 seed Cincinnati Bearcats at the opening round game in Boise, Idaho.

“I’ve been on the flip-side of one of these situations when I was at Northern Arizona,” Howland said. ”Cincinnati beat us at the end of the game with a last second three-point shot.”

“We should have won that game,” Howland said replaying the final seconds of the game in his mind. “They (Cincinnati) had a pretty good team that included Kenyon Martin and Ruben Patterson, both NBA players, but we really should have won it.”

In that first round game, Northern Arizona entered as the best three-point shooting team in the nation, and they lived up to their billing with an early barrage of three-point baskets to take a six point lead with under nine minutes remaining in the game.

But then Cincinnati's defense clamped down and were able to tie the score at 62-62, and had the ball with 17 seconds left in the game.

After a Bearcat time-out, Cincinnati’s Kenyon Martin set a hard screen to free up teammate D'Juan Baker's for an open three-pointer with 3.6 seconds left to help the Bearcats escape with a 65-62 victory, and avoid an early exit.

After the game a dejected Northern Arizona coach Ben Howland told the press, "We deserved to win the game. It's just unfortunate. They did everything I asked them to do, and we just came up a little short. It's unfortunate, because I think we're a really good team."

Eight years later, coach Ben Howland returns to the West Regional with a No.2 seed UCLA team to face, coincidentally, a prolific three-point shooting No.15 seed team. But coach Howland has been here before, of course last time on the other side of the seeding, but he understands the mind set of how an underdog enters the tournament. He’s been the coach of a No.15 seed team given no chance of winning a tournament game, a team which played inspired ball and narrowly missed upsetting a heavily favored opponent.

“Look, Belmont, they’re not afraid of us. They have no pressure on them.” Howland said. “We better be ready to play.”

You can be sure Howland has repeatedly shared his experiences with his players as they prepare for their game against the Belmont Bruins on Thursday.

Some final eerie comparisons between coach Howland's 1998 Northern Arizona squad and this year's Belmont Bruins. Like the Belmont Bruins, Northern Arizona’s offense was predicated on prolific three-point shooting.

The 1998 Northern Arizona team attempted 38% of their total field goal attempts as three-point field goal attempts. They led the nation in three-point field percentage at 42%.

The Belmont Bruins are very similar. Three-point field goal attempts also account for 38% of their total field goal attempts, and they make them at an impressive 38% clip as a team.

Injury update: Senior forward Cedric Bozeman will be held to limited practices this week as he continues to heal from a sprained ankle he suffered Thursday at the Pac-10 tournament. “We won't have Ced participate in any contact drills", Howland said. “We don't want him to accidentally tweak the ankle.” On Bozeman’s strong play in the Pac-10 tournament, Howland said “Ced is excited to be playing, he’s pumped, and he knows these are his final games in college. He makes our team so much better when he plays.”



At Mar 15, 2006, 2:19:00 PM, Blogger Chris said...

When I first read the breakdowns for the "other" Bruins, it was shocking for me to recognize the similarities between them and Howland's NAU 3-point bombers. I also recalled how NAU was in the 1998 Cincy game until the bitter end.

However, I don't recall the 98 Cincy being defensive-minded and as crisp with their game as UCLA currently is. They got knocked out by 10-seeded WVU in the next round after escaping Howland and NAU.

Howland and UCLA are going to be prepared and ready for Belmont, along with any young team they face. The older, tourney-experienced teams are the teams I fear for upset ...

Go Bruins!

At Mar 15, 2006, 7:23:00 PM, Blogger BBR said...


Great post. The story was a comparison between NAU amd BU 3PT shooting, and I didn't consider the UCLA vs. UC angle - nice point.

UC had two top-notch individual defenders in Kenyon Martin - a great shot blocker in college, and Ruben Patterson (Kobe-stopper) on the team. Not a bad defensive tandem.

Now, whether UC played better team defense than the 2005-06 Bruins is another matter.

Huggins was a defensive-minded coach, but never to the extent of Ben Howland.

Howland will certainly have the team ready. No doubt about it.


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