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Friday, March 22, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas - When Minnesota and UCLA meet today in the NCAA tournament, the winning coach just might put the loser out of his job.
Call it a Texas showdown that could be the ultimate one-and-done.
UCLA's Ben Howland and Minnesota's Tubby Smith are facing intense speculation back home, and some nationally, that anything but a deep postseason run could cost them their jobs. Beating the other guy could help cool down their courtside seats a bit.
It might seem odd that two coaches with long resumes of success would arrive at this point, particularly considering what their teams have accomplished this season. The Bruins (25-9) won the Pac-12 regular season title to earn the No. 6 seed in the South Regional. The Gophers (20-12) are the No. 11 seed after earning just the 12th NCAA tournament berth in school history.
Howland, who coached the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08, didn't want to talk about the speculation swirling about his future at a program he's led for 10 years.
"I'm just here focused really on our game against Minnesota," he said.
Howland also went out of his way to praise Smith, who won a national championship with Kentucky in 1998.
"I have this great respect for Tubby Smith and all that he's accomplished. ... He's a Hall of Fame coach. No question about it," Howland said.
Howland's problem is that UCLA, one of the blue blood programs in college basketball, has been in a long drought of postseason success. The Bruins missed the tournament in 2010 and 2012 and haven't made it past the first weekend since their last Final Four appearance in 2008.
For Smith, the challenge is getting the Gophers to find the same form that led to a 15-1 start and earned them a reputation as a rugged, rebounding, physical team. That was before a four-game losing streak led to an 8-10 finish in Big Ten play. The Gophers beat then-No. 1 Indiana in late February but haven't won a game since March 2.
"Our confidence was shaken by some tough losses," Smith said. "We still have a very experienced team. ... We did enough to warrant being here."
The Gophers have won at least 20 games five times under Smith, but those haven't included any big wins in the NCAA tournament. The Gophers also missed the tournament in 2011 and 2012.
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