The Night Ben Howland Went Home with a Timeout

For some reason, nothing fascinates me more than the way college basketball coaches use their timeouts. And there is no more interesting study than UCLA’s Ben Howland, who seems to value his stoppages of play differently than anyone else in the country. I coined the term Howland for a timeout called to stop a run when the next dead ball would mean a media timeout because Howland is the leading practitioner of a trend that is all too common around the country.

The Bruins’ visit to Hec Edmundson Pavilion last year was the quintessential Howland timeout game. He burned through three timeouts in the first half and had used up all five of them by the 12:57 mark of a close game. When Howland took his first timeout 2:32 into Thursday’s ballgame, it looked like we were headed for a repeat. Instead, the UCLA coach showed surprising discretion, added by his team’s ability to stem any Washington momentum with timely scores.

Howland took a pair of timeouts to the five-minute mark, then used one with 4:38 to play to set up his defense after a score, giving him one to burn. He never used it.

Remarkably, the Bruins found themselves in precisely the sort of situation for which most coaches save their timeouts. After a Terrence Ross miss, UCLA took possession down two with 26 seconds remaining. The Bruins came down and got into their offense, even after the Huskies took away any opportunities for transition or the secondary break. The resulting play was a mess. Freshmen guard Norman Powell eventually got the ball in the corner. Powell, who was in the game only because Tyler Lamb had fouled out, driving for a contested pull-up jumper with three seconds left. When he missed, time ran out before the Bruins could secure the rebound or foul.

Lamb’s fifth foul, with 2:49 left, was an important point in the game. Without him, the Bruins had no choice but to use smaller defenders on the 6-6 Ross. Having already made his previous two shots, Ross abused Powell for a score and the foul, then knocked down a three-pointer to extend the lead.

The performance capped another impressive second half for Ross, who has been two completely different players in the two halves at home dating back to the win over Washington State. The final shot was Ross’ only miss of the second half. He went for 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting. Over the last four games, updating stats provided by the Huskies Basketball App, Ross is averaging 3.0 points in the first half and 18.3 after halftime. His shooting percentage has gone from 19.2 percent to 65.7 percent.

The team has been similarly bipolar. While Thursday’s night didn’t qualify–the Huskies outscored UCLA by one in either half–it continued a trend of big runs by Washington in the second half. Against Washington State it was 18-2 midway through. UW got back in the Cal game with a 10-5 spurt, and reeled off 13 unanswered points to put Stanford away. Thursday saw the Huskies go on a 15-2 run to go from down 10 to up three in the final minute.

These runs have featured similar characteristics–turnovers leading to layups and dunks, Washington executing its offense for open looks from beyond the arc and a frenzied Hec Ed crowd. (I’m still a little hoarse from the game.) In a season that started with as much grumbling as cheering in the stands, these runs–and the home-court advantage they reflect–have been a welcome change.

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