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Three Final Fours Deserves Praise, Not Ridicule:

Within minutes of UCLA’s 78-63 loss to Memphis in a national semi-final game on Saturday, April 5, talk show callers were finding fault with the Bruins’ basketball program.

 Three straight trips to the Final Four and no championships left some fans bitterly disappointed.

 Some even questioned whether Ben Howland is the right man for the coaching job.

 I would have been outraged if I hadn’t learned many years ago that the worst time to evaluate a situation is right after an emotional defeat. Some wise people who held administrative jobs taught me that a healing period is necessary to avoid overreacting.

 Give this UCLA situation some time and cooler heads will prevail. And while some folks will hold onto the belief that it’s necessary to win the big game, many others will realize that reaching the Final Four three straight years is a marvelous accomplishment.

 I favor building a successful program, as Howland has done, to accumulating a team that can win once then fall back into the pack.

 I observe that neither Ohio State nor Florida, who played in last season’s championship game, even qualified for this season’s tournament.

 Okay I’ll admit that Howland, with no national championships, doesn’t compare to John Wooden with 10. But who else does? Wooden is the greatest college basketball coach of all time.

 Howland was in pretty good company Saturday. Roy Williams also brought a team to the Final Four and lost when his North Carolina team was eliminated by Kansas, the team he used to coach.

 UCLA won 35 games and lost four. Memphis was the better team on Saturday and probably would have won in any case, but Howland’s strategy was questionable.

 He assigned Darren Collison to Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook to Chris Douglas-Roberts. In both cases the UCLA defenders gave away size and strength. They were no match for the two Memphis stars who combined for 53 points.

 Television analyst Billy Packer wondered and I agreed with him why Westbrook wasn’t assigned to Rose? He is three inches taller than Collison.

 That would have left Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who is 6-foot-8, on Douglas-Roberts, seemingly a better match in terms of size.

 When Collison plays in the NBA he won’t be assigned to Rose, who’s about the size of Jason Kidd. There’ll be plenty of smaller guards for Collison to match up with.

 And now we come to the topic of the day – which UCLA players are going to leave school early for the NBA? If center Kevin Love, Collison, and Westbrook all go, the nucleus will be broken up.

 However, even then UCLA would retain Mbah a Moute, Josh Shipp, James Keefe, Alfred Aboya, Michael Roll, and Chace Stanback. And four high school stars are coming in – Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee, Jeremy Anderson, and Drew Gordon.

 That’s enough for Howland to have another Pac-10 Conference contender. However, without Love and his backup, senior Lorenzo Mata-Real, UCLA wouldn’t have an experienced center.

 Among the recruits, only Gordon is a big man; the others are guards. And while Gordon is good defensively he’s nowhere near as good as Love on offense.

 It remains possible that UCLA will bring in another big man, using the scholarship Love sacrifices if he leaves. But as of today that player is not in the Bruins’ program.

 A few months of reflection should lead UCLA fans to realize the basketball program is in capable hands now.

 Winning the school’s 12th national championship would have been grand. As of now, however, Wooden has won 10, Jim Harrick one, and Howland none. But three Final Fours in a row is not to be taken lightly.

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