Ben Howland's future at UCLA in doubt after Bruins thumped by Minnesota 83-63 in NCAA tourney
AUSTIN, Texas – Ben Howland brought his UCLA team to the NCAA tournament with a target on his back that only got bigger after an uninspired 20-point loss that sent the Bruins packing — once again — with an early-round exit.
By the time he gets back to Los Angeles, the howling for his job just might reach a fever pitch.
Andre Hollins scored 28 points and Minnesota rolled past punchless UCLA 83-63 on Friday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Austin Hollins added 16 points for the 11th-seeded Gophers (21-12), who advanced to Sunday's third round against No. 3 seed Florida in the South Regional.
UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad, expected to leave for the NBA, scored 20 points for the Bruins (25-10) but most of them came after the Gophers had the game well in hand.
The blowout will be tough for Howland to explain to UCLA fans dissatisfied that a coach who led them to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08 hasn't brought his team out of the first weekend of the tournament since 2009. UCLA missed it altogether last season.
Howland didn't want to talk about his future Friday night, preferring to talk about the players who won the Pac-12 regular-season title.
"I'm really proud of this group of kids, and I'm really indebted to them for the great season they provided," he said.
But even that conference title was dampened when Jordan Adams, whom Howland described as his team's best all-around player, was lost to a broken ankle in the conference tournament.
The injury seemed to infect the entire UCLA offense. The Bruins never looked to have the fight to beat the Gophers, who delivered on their reputation as tough team molded by season-long battles in the Big Ten.
Minnesota shot 50 percent, with Andre and Austin Hollins knocking down a combined nine 3-pointers. The Gophers had limped into the tournament after losing 11 of their final 16 games, but found their early-season form in time to thump the listless Bruins and get their first win since March 2.
"We haven't played well in a while," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "It was good to see our guys having fun, playing the right way, sharing the basketball, taking care of the basketball."
The Bruins clearly missed Adams.
UCLA looked disjointed and Muhammad — who missed all seven of his shots in the first half — seemed to get lost as his teammates looked for other options.
"No question it affected us," Howland said of missing Adams.
UCLA also got into foul trouble when forwards Travis Wear and Tony Parker both picked up three in the first half. That robbed the Bruins of some much-needed muscle under the basket against the physical Gophers.
"We were ready for a war," Bruins forward David Wear said. "We were ready for a physical game inside and we came out and they called a couple of quick fouls. It was tough trying to adjust to that."
Austin Hollins scored 11 in the first half and his third 3-pointer pushed the Gophers to a 33-19 lead. UCLA pulled to 35-25 by halftime.
Muhammad got more involved in the second with seven quick points and UCLA pulled within five when Norman Powell made a 3-pointer. The Gophers responded with consecutive 3-pointers from Andre Hollins from opposite corners to push the lead back to 11.
Every time UCLA made a move, the Gophers found a way to push the Bruins back and were never really in danger of losing the lead. UCLA's last threat came when Muhammad scored four consecutive points, including a fast-break dunk that cut the lead to eight with about nine minutes to play.
The Gophers responded with a 16-5 run — punctuated by Andre Hollins' fourth 3-pointer — to make it 73-54.
"We were obviously short-handed," Howland said. "You could see that our guys wore down physically."