The myth: A cat has nine lives because of the swiftness it exhibits to escape potentially perilous situations.
I have no idea if losing to Washington State in basketball overrides such fortune.
I’m guessing losing to Cal Poly might cost a guy four lives alone.
Ben Howland hopes he also owns that inbuilt automatic twisting reaction to land on his feet in the place he has stood for 10 seasons. He coached UCLA to a fourth conference title this season, will lead it into a seventh NCAA Tournament field next week and owns a resume with the Bruins that is highlighted by three straight trips to the Final Four.
And has no idea if he will have a job once the season ends.
What he knows is that UCLA remains alive in the Pacific 12 Conference tournament, having rallied to bounce Arizona State 80-75 in a quarterfinal game Thursday afternoon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Shabazz Muhammad helped fuel the comeback, much as the former Bishop Gorman star’s commitment to the Bruins in April helped breathe fire into Howland’s future as part of a recruiting class thought good enough to return UCLA to the doorstep of national prominence.
The Bruins are looking at a seed in the No. 6 range come the NCAAs.
OK, so prominent has a different meaning today compared to the dynasty of the past.
“We’re playing right now like it’s the NCAA Tournament,” Howland said. “We’re just really pleased to be playing another day and find a way to come back and win a tough game against Arizona State.”
Bill Walton isn’t big on such an average reality — and hopefully on such vanilla quotes — for the program he helped make one of history’s best, having strongly implied the Bruins need to make a coaching change on a TV broadcast last month.
I usually listen when the three-time All-American and two-time national champion speaks, because I have absolutely no idea what Walton is saying most of the time and it’s entertaining in a bizarre sort of way. Whether those in the administration listen and agree on his take concerning Howland is anyone’s guess.
For now, the UCLA that was scrappy and resilient and overcame a 15-point deficit with 16 minutes left against Arizona State certainly can win two more games here and perhaps a few more the NCAAs.
It also could be home watching the Sweet 16.
No roller coaster from here to Disney World has more twists and turns than Howland’s job status the past year. His program hit a lull after the Final Four runs from 2005 to 2008 because, more often than not, he signed the wrong players and allowed others to land and flourish elsewhere. He didn’t evaluate all that well, missing on recruits and passing on ones who proved better wearing opposing uniforms.
Howland for some time took all sorts of hits for the conservative style of play UCLA offered, and yet many who know him best suggest he often has given players too much freedom, usually ones who aren’t good enough to handle it.
Or at least the ones who can’t shoot.
“Look at this year — they’re a quick-shooting team, be it good or bad shots,” Hall of Fame college basketball writer Frank Burlison said. “They have the highest-scoring team in the conference and play at the fastest pace. The questions about style were all off-base.
“Now, if you want to say he isn’t a slap-you-on-the-back guy or all warm and fuzzy, OK. He’s a very demanding coach who prepares his players for the NBA as well as anyone. His players get to the league and don’t need to be taught a lot.”
Muhammad will be the next in line, such an obvious one-and-done player that Howland spoke after UCLA’s final home game about his freshman forward departing for the NBA once the season ends.
He had six of his team’s 14 offensive rebounds Thursday and scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half. Muhammad was a beast inside, and because of it, UCLA lives to play Arizona in a semifinal at 6 p.m. today.
What the outcome will mean — nothing, something, a little, a lot — on where Howland lands on his feet weeks from now is as big a mystery as to how anyone thought those adidas camouflage uniforms UCLA wore Thursday were attractive.
Kentucky. Oklahoma State. DePaul. Nebraska. Job offers have come Howland’s way the past 10 seasons, all with differing levels of dollar signs attached.
He never once bit.
“It’s not as if he were to leave at season’s end — either by his decision or the school’s — he would struggle to find work,” Burlison said. “He has turned down some very big jobs for a lot more money than he’s making.
“UCLA is still a good job, a very good job. It has tradition and location and access to players, all the things you need to be good. But you’re not going to find someone who would leave North Carolina or Duke or Kansas or Kentucky or Butler or Gonzaga and give up a house they spent $800,000 for to have not as nice a house that costs $3 million. I think (Howland) is a survivor.”
Somewhere in there might be the reason he isn’t out of lives at UCLA just yet.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.