Hit the road, coach
Lavin's Bruins are off to a 4-7 start. AP
By Stewart Mandel
For the majority of the nation's basketball programs, Steve Lavin's job status wouldn't even be a question.
It's technically not a question at UCLA, either. Lavin has to go.
This is UCLA, people. One of the proudest programs in all of college basketball shouldn't be 4-7, shouldn't be losing by double digits at home to NIT-bound opponents.
And most of all, Pauley Pavilion shouldn't be drawing more people for a high school game (LeBron James) than the Bruins do.
Just for the record, I don't think Lavin is a bad coach. I didn't think he deserved much of the heat he's gotten his previous six seasons in Westwood, and I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt early on during this one, figuring he'd wind up in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight as always.
But then I visited L.A. while covering the Rose Bowl, arriving just days after the Bruins' embarrassing home loss to Michigan. I talked to several fans, including one diehard who's been a season-ticket holder for as long as I've known him.
Until now. This year, he sold the tickets.
Like many UCLA fans, he's gotten sick of watching Lavin's teams sleepwalk through the regular season. He's gotten sick of watching teams once ranked in the top eight end up with an eighth seed in the NCAAs, gotten sick of watching McDonald's All-Americas underachieve for two years, then bolt for the NBA.
And he's hardly alone. Bruins games these days are marked by a half-empty student section, boos, taunts, even fans with paper bags over their heads.
UCLA is no longer UCLA. Lavin has to go. He might as well go now, so the healing process can begin. He'll surely be a better fit wherever he lands next.
But UCLA? Lavin's time there is over.
Don't give up yet
Jason Kapono can right UCLA's ship. AP
By Mark Button
For starters, yes, I'm aware that UCLA fans have grown tired of Steve Lavin. I'm aware of the hate mail he's received, aware of the early exits by the fans. And I'm fully aware of the Bruins' horrid season so far -- four wins, seven losses, including home court thrashings by USC and St. John's.
But before my colleague Stewart Mandel has you ready to burn Lavin at the stake, let's review a few things.
UCLA fans have some of the most unreasonable expectations in all of college basketball. Lavin is not John Wooden. And T.J. Cummings is not Bill Walton. But UCLA fans are UCLA fans. Since when is it breaking news when L.A. sports fans leave a game early? And since when hasn't Lavin's job been in jeopardy?
The fact is, none of that matters. You know what does?
Lavin is one of only two coaches to lead his team to five Sweet 16s in the last six years. Read that again: Five Sweet 16s in six years. The other coach, you ask? Some guy named Mike Kryzyewski.
I'm not saying Lavin doesn't deserve some heat. But let's remember the regular season is nothing more than a prelude to the NCAAs. And Lavin's postseason record speaks for itself.
Yes, UCLA can still make the tournament. Jason Kapono has found his shot again (he's made 51 percent of his FGs in January) and his supporting cast -- Dijon Thompson, Cummings, Andre Patterson, Cedric Bozeman, et al -- have the tools to start putting up W's. Plus, after Arizona, the Pac-10 just isn't that strong this year.
If you think Pauley Pavilion boo-birds and nasty e-mails are going to run Lavin out of Westwood, you're nuts. The man has already dodged more pink slips than Jennifer Lopez's husbands. Some men thrive under pressure, others wilt. Lavin has shown which type he is.