AUSTIN, Texas — If in fact it was his last game as the head coach at UCLA, it was a goodbye Ben Howland would surely like to forget.
As it turns out all of the negative quotes Howland plastered throughout the UCLA locker room he hoped would be motivation, turned out to be correct.
With their coaches’ job presumably on the line, the 6th seed Bruins gave a spiritless effort in an 83-63 loss to 11th seed Minnesota (21-12) bringing their season to a screeching halt in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The win was the largest ever in an NCAA tournament game for the Golden Gophers. For the Bruins it signaled the end.
The end of Larry Drew II’s collegiate career and his one season at UCLA. Likely the end of the collegiate career of recently discovered 20-year old freshman Shabazz Muhammad.
And presumably the end of the 10-season Howland era in Westwood.
Asked following the game if he thought he coached his final game with UCLA, Howland responded “No comment. No, I can’t answer that.”
It appeared as if everything affecting the Bruins (25-10) came to a head on Friday night in Austin, Texas.
It was the Bruins second game without second leading scorer Jordan Adams but once again, they were out of sorts offensively. UCLA had no answer for the Minnesota zone in the first half, connecting on just 8-of-30 field goals.
“I said throughout the season, the one thing that could stop us would have been losing a key guy,” Howland said. “And that’s what ended up happening to us down the stretch.”
If Muhammad were to have a bad night, Adams could be counted on to pick up the slack as he did a week ago in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals against Arizona. With no Adams, who would pick up the slack for Muhammad?
Muhammad and the rest of the UCLA starters were a dismal 3-of-23 from the field in the first half. The Pac-12’s Co-freshman of the Year missed all seven of his field goals and had just five points in the first half.
Kyle Anderson was scoreless in the first half. Travis Wear couldn’t be counted on after picking up his third personal foul at the 11:33 mark of the first half.
The first basket by a starter didn’t come until Drew II made a jumper to make it 14-13 with 9:53 left in the first half.
“It was off to a real tough start for us,” Muhammad said. “It is hard to play in the NCAA tournament. I think we had a lot of jitters coming out.”
Tony Parker, whom Howland said was going to be counted on to play double digit minutes with the rotation down to seven players, was in foul trouble as well with three first half fouls.
It was actually David Wear to step up with nine points off of the bench in the first half as the Bruins trailed by only 10 points at halftime, 35-25.
It was a first half of strange trends. Minnesota, eighth in the country in rebound margin, actually trailed the rebounding battle 20-16 in the first half. Meanwhile, UCLA didn’t have any fast break points, getting outscored 9-0 in that category in the first 20 minutes.
Muhammad woke up in the second half, connecting on 6-of-11 field goals and finishing with 20 points, but unfortunately for the Bruins, so did Minnesota’s Andre Hollins.
The Golden Gophers sophomore guard scored 23 of his game-high 28 points in the second half.
UCLA cut the Minnesota lead to five with 15:08 left in the second half but Hollins responded with back-to-back three point baskets to extend the lead to 11 points, 50-39 with 14:12 to play.
“After I hit those threes, it relieved the pressure a little bit from us, and then from then on we picked up the defensive intensity,” he said.
Hollins caught fire scoring 13 of 16 Minnesota points over a 5:29 span, while the Bruins never got going, shooting a season low 31.7 percent from the field.
Since going to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08, the Bruins have gone 2-3 in NCAA tournaments under Howland, with two of those losses coming by 20 points.