UCLA beat UW in Washington for the first time since Howland's first season in 2004 to win the 2013 Pac-12 regular season title. With Oregon's two losses this final week, UCLA clinched the title outright. This is UCLA's 41st regular season conference championship in history. However, it is only UCLA's 4th conference title since Lavin's only title in 1996 and the first since Howland won 3 straight from 2006-08. Howland has now won more conference titles at UCLA (4) than any coach not named John Wooden (19). This is also the first title since the conference expanded to 12 teams last season.
Howland's Bruins finished with a 13-5 Pac-12 record for the 3rd time. The two previous times in '09 and '11, UCLA ended up in 2nd place. His previous conf title records were 14-4 in '06, 15-3 in '07 and 16-2 in '08.
With all the criticism Howland has endured the past year, fans have no reason to complain about this season. He has gone out and recruited some of the nation's best players. He has installed a high tempo offense and played a more attractive style of offense. He has withstood Josh Smith's defection and UCLA's defensive and rebounding liabilities and willed the team to a regular season title. Obviously the NCAA tournament result matters, but I am ecstatic with the season so far.
I couldn't care less about the Pac-12 tournament. Of course I want to win every game that we step foot in, but it is obviously a money grab (complete with ugly uniforms that Adidas hopes will generate more sales) that doesn't really determine a true conference champion. I'd rather we play all other 11 teams home and away instead.
As for the tournament that matters, Howland hasn't been past the Round of 32 since his Final Four runs. That's 4 straight years of major disappointment in March. Given our team's big man deficiencies, I think a Sweet 16 appearance is a realistic goal. An Elite Eight would be cause for euphoria. Yes, our expectations have changed since 2008, haven't they?