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The Inside Track | T.J. Simers

Howland's Bruins Have a Certain Familiar Look

November 30, 2003|T.J. Simers

I was already typing the "Ben Howland must go" column until the Bruins came back to win by a point, ruining a good story.

Howland keeps this up, and we're just not going to get along.

It was halftime Saturday in Pauley Pavilion, the start of the Ben Howland Error, and famed basketball power UCLA was down 11 points to Vermont, a state that most people would have trouble pinpointing on the map and a university that hasn't beaten a major conference team since 1977.

The Vermont Catamarans, ah, Catamounts, or whatever they're called, had lost to Nevada by 20 points this season. Let's hope the Bruins don't run into Nevada.

Vermont had also lost to Iona, and if a Pacific 10 Conference referee doesn't swallow the whistle on the Cats' final shot at the buzzer, Vermont has someone shooting free throws with a chance to turn UCLA's 68-67 victory into their first win of the season.

Had that happened, it still wouldn't have been Happy Meals all around for the folks back home, because Montpelier is the only state capital that doesn't have a McDonald's. I know this because the basketball was so dull in the first half of the Ben Howland Error that I had plenty of time to learn everything I could about Vermont, the final resting place for Maria von Trapp as well as Calvin Coolidge.

The first time the Bruins touched the ball in the Ben Howland Error, they traveled. Vermont scored the game's first points, and UCLA missed the first shot and committed the first foul. It was 4-0 before UCLA scored, and Howland began to take on that stubborn Coach Norman Dale glow in "Hoosiers": "Pass the ball at least four times, block out, rebound, defense."

It was 12-10 Vermont after the first 10 minutes, and no sign of Jimmy Chitwood anywhere, leading one to believe that when UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero sets out to hire a coach, he never gets around to mentioning the fact that they'll be coming to work just up the street from the entertainment capital of the world.

Howland talks a lot about his healthy eight scholarship players. "Nine," he said later when he saw a reporter looking as if he might check the facts. He said the Bruins are outmanned right now, and I'll bet the Vermont coach will get a good laugh when he hears that one.

In the second half Vermont reverted to small-school form and gagged. UCLA came on and averted a University of San Diego-like start to the season by one point. A year ago Steve Lavin lost a game like this in overtime to USD.

And Lavin can't coach, but Howland is a savior. One point sure makes a big difference.

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IF UCLA football Coach Karl Dullard was here for the basketball game, I didn't notice him.

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UCLA, AN institution of higher education, has closed its locker room, apparently fearful its athletes aren't ready to talk to adults one on one. They now bring three of them to a separate room so that their cliches can be monitored. In fact, Howland sat in the room and listened to his athletes address the media, in effect controlling what they had to say.

No wonder so many professional athletes aren't prepared to deal with the media glare when they leave college; they haven't been given the chance to learn in a place that supposedly is here for only that purpose. (Stanford apparently has an open locker room; the school must think its athletes are smart enough to handle it.)

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HARRY THOMPSON sat on the same bench just inside the entrance to Hollywood Park, always full of good cheer and terrific stories. I never had the pleasure to watch the great lineman play football for the 1951 champion Los Angeles Rams, but it was a privilege to know him the last 20 years. Harry passed away last week at his home in L.A., and it's just not going to be the same to walk into Hollywood Park and not hear him laugh.

It'd be nice if Hollywood Park put a little metal plate on that bench honoring one of its faithful patrons, as well as one of the area's premier athletes.

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HOLLYWOOD PARK has two mega races today, and legendary French trainer Maurice Zilber predicts Etoile Montante and Acago will finish one-two in the Matriarch. He's wrong, of course, I have Magic Mission and Maiden Tower going one-two.

"Lyons the Loser," the TVG handicapper who thought he knew what he was talking about, tried taking me on in the Breeders' Cup only to lose. Zilber is the latest gunslinger, and he has Sign Of The Wolf winning the $600,000 Hollywood Derby.

They never learn. Kicken Kris wins the Derby, and Zilber goes home with nothing more than the Julie Krone bobblehead doll the track is giving away today.

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I CAN'T remember if it was Earl Woods or Bill Dwyre who said it: "Let's face it, a wife can sometimes be a distraction to a good game of golf," but now we're going to find out just how good Tiger Woods really is with the news he's become engaged to be married.

Jesper Parnevik introduced his nanny, Elin Nordegren, to Woods two years ago and maybe instead of trying to get a date, the Notre Dame daughter should probably be looking for a baby-sitting job.

I've ridden in the same elevator with Nordegren, and I must say, I approve.

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TODAY'S LAST word comes in e-mail from Mario:

"You sound all tough and big when you talk trash about the Clippers. But you're just a bitter old man who can't make a living doing anything other than writing and making negative comments about the Clippers. I'd definitely like to see you dribble a ball the length of the court without tripping."

Let's see if Corey Maggette can do it first.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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