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T.J. SIMERS

Rick Neuheisel could learn some things from Ben Howland at UCLA

Howland's Bruins basketball teams may not be entertaining, but they usually win, and almost always improve as the season goes on. Neuheisel's football teams not only fail to entertain, they tend to lose a lot and seem to keep getting worse.

March 01, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • While UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel, left, has struggled to make his teams competitive, UCLA men's basketball coach Ben Howland has been successful at improving his teams throughout the course of the season.
While UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel, left, has struggled to make his… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

I have somewhat encouraging news.

The UCLA sports information department tells me football Coach Rick Neuheisel has attended six to seven UCLA basketball games this season.

I understand what a grueling experience it is to sit through one of those things. But who says school is supposed to be fun?

If I were Ricky, though, I wouldn't have missed one of Ben Howland's classes.

Obviously Ricky wasn't busy recruiting as evidenced by this year's list of UCLA signees.

I know he went to Mexico looking for a defensive coordinator and also to celebrate his 50th birthday, but he will be able to spend all kinds of time in Mexico if this season isn't a lot better than the last three.

So that brings me back to Howland, and a question: Why didn't Ricky request to sit on the bench beside Ben Howland?

If the mark of a great coach is the improvement shown by his players as a season goes on, Howland is a great coach.

Now I can't stand the style of basketball played by UCLA under Howland. He's a control freak with a boring emphasis on defense. And Bruins basketball just isn't very entertaining.

But winning still counts in sports, I would think, as an indication of excellence. And so Howland has done his job better than most.

And after watching the Bruins play a few weeks ago, it's a wonder they could beat anyone this season.

I don't watch all that much college basketball, so maybe there's been a dramatic drop-off in the game. And I know Pac-10 basketball isn't very highly regarded.

But someone still has to win and still has to lose, and Howland will now be taking to the NCAA tournament a team that lost to USC earlier this season.

I didn't even know they played basketball at USC.

Anyone who watched this group play earlier in the season has to be shocked to find the Bruins tied for first place in the Pac-10 and already a cinch to make the NCAA tournament.

The pollsters don't think much of the Bruins. And Howland has maybe one NBA prospect on his roster. That might explain why his kids are coachable, but whatever the reason in this age of parity, UCLA has lost only twice since Jan. 9.

Now that's a clear indication of improvement, something that seems to have eluded the UCLA football program under Neuheisel.

Take the last six games in each of Neuheisel's three seasons, and his teams have finished 7-11. It helps to explain why the Bruins have failed twice in that time to become bowl eligible.

UCLA basketball might still bottom out down the stretch in Washington this week and later in the Pac-10 tournament. Maybe even flop in the NCAA tournament.

Then Howland won't be such a great coach. That's sports, which just goes to show you how quickly things can turn around. Hello, Ricky, are you listening?

But right now Howland has done something remarkable. It's been a while since I've been able to write such a sentence in reference to a UCLA coach.

JAMIE McCOURT said she will donate $2,344 to the Walk Now for Autism Speaks campaign in the name of Lakers honk John Ireland.

Last month Ireland had said he would walk the 2,344 miles between Cleveland and L.A. if the Lakers lost to the Cavaliers. The Lakers lost and Ireland hopped on the team plane for the return flight to L.A.

Broadcaster Jim Hill not only said he would donate $2,344 to Autism Speaks, as you might expect the best-known broadcaster in L.A. to say, but he said he would call Frank McCourt and suggest he do the same.

But so far — no donation from Frank. As you well know, it takes time for loan approval.

Radio personalities, and that's being generous, Max Kellerman, Marcellus Wiley and Steve Mason also said they would contribute. Ireland said they didn't specify an amount, but I would think it would go without saying they will each contribute $2,344 or come across as lightweights.

No word from Stephen A. Smith, but it's not like I'm complaining.

Mason said he would contribute $2,344 on Monday, but as of Tuesday evening he still had not done so. Maybe he and Frank have the same loan officer.

Management at 710 ESPN apparently would like to distance itself from Ireland because it has made no effort to support the worthy cause. Maybe 570 will do so on 710's behalf.

It was e-mailer Dottie Weiler's suggestion to have "all the Lakers players and personnel, including fearless leader Phil Jackson" donate $2,344 since they are the ones who lost to Cleveland.

"This could turn that loss into something positive," she wrote.

I knew right away when Dottie suggested "all the Lakers personnel" donate that PR guy John Black might faint. So when I contacted him in Minnesota, I only mentioned Jackson's name, knowing he makes like $12 million and maybe he could donate on behalf of the whole team.

The PR guy's text response: "LOL." I don't know if that means lots of love, or lots of luck.

As for those who e-mailed wanting to know if Page 2 will be donating $2,344 to Autism Speaks, it's already been done. It was the wife's idea because we had been saving for the daughter's marriage, but it's not like that's going to happen.

ACCORDING TO our Dylan Hernandez, the Dodgers made four errors Monday, "but Manager Don Mattingly said he wasn't upset, noting that the mistakes didn't result from being out of position."

Nice to know, but that would suggest the players were in position but just not good enough to make the plays. Your 2011 Dodgers.

ONE OBSERVER who stopped by Staples Center on Monday night to assess the mood in the arena after the Kings' gigantic deal to acquire Dustin Penner said the crowd went wild.

They were chanting, "Let's go Red Wings."

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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