UCLA Coach Ben Howland complains to a referee during a game against Cal State… ( Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
It was a niggling little thing that caused Ben Howland's voice to harden just a little Friday.
The question arose because a respected Internet source of UCLA basketball news, Bruins Report Online, had reported that its "sources" were beginning to say Howland, the man who once took the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours, might not make it through this season, and that Athletic Director Dan Guerrero already had a list of possible replacements.
UCLA had a game Saturday night against Fresno State and another Friday against 12th-ranked Missouri before opening Pac-12 Conference play, and discussions about his job were not what Howland wanted to have before facing the Bulldogs at Pauley Pavilion.
"You know what? This profession, you always have things written," Howland said. "I just do everything I can to improve and grow. I can't help you in substantiating anything. Everything at UCLA since I've been here is the same. I'll be evaluated at the end of the season."
The Bruins (8-3) had a little momentum going into Saturday's game, a three-game winning streak. A victory over Fresno State (5-6) would mean a season-high four-game streak going into a short Christmas break.
From what Howland had seen of Fresno State, he said, "They play extremely hard. They really pressure in their man-to-man defense. They're primarily a man-to-man defensive team that really gets out and pressures you. I've been really impressed with their freshman center, Robert Upshaw, who we had recruited some, who's probably lost about 30 pounds. He looks in great physical condition."
Upshaw, a 7-footer, is listed at 250 pounds and averages six points and four rebounds a game.
Howland also mentioned Fresno State's leading scorer, junior guard Allen Huddleston, a transfer who had played two years for Pacific.
Fresno State Coach Rodney Terry is in his second season after spending nine years as an assistant to Rick Barnes at Texas. Terry got credit for recruiting and helping to develop 10 All-Americans, including Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin.
Terry fondly remembers the old Pauley. He was an assistant in 2007 when second-ranked UCLA was stunned by the Longhorns at the buzzer, a loss that ended a 25-game home winning streak by the Bruins.
Howland said that after the Fresno State game, he'll give the team Sunday and Monday off, then practice Christmas night to begin getting ready for Missouri. "All the kids will stick around," Howland said. "It's tough. I feel bad they won't be able to get home for the holidays."
Two wins before the Pac-12 season begins would be a nice holiday gift.
"Ben's done a great job," Terry said. "These are young kids he's got, talented, but they had to gain confidence and I see that coming from them."