Midway through a lengthy 1-on-1 interview with UCLA coach Ben Howland before the start of conference play in late December, Los Angeles Daily News beat writer Jon Gold asked a question that elicited an unusual response.
"If you guys get hot, play well in conference, get a couple tournament wins, finish with 22, 23 wins ..." Gold began.
"God, I'd kiss you right now," Howland interjected. "I swear to God. I would come over there and I'd kiss you if we got 22, 23, 24 wins."
Howland delivered on that promise on Saturday after the Bruins notched their 22nd win by erasing a 13-point halftime deficit at shorthanded Washington State and eking out a 58-54 overtime victory. Reminded by Gold of what he said in their December interview, Howland got up from his seat, puckered up and planted a kiss on the side of Gold's forehead.
"And I mean that kiss," Howland said. "I am so happy. You have no idea."
If it seems bizarre that a 22-9 regular-season and a second-place finish in the Pac-10 would make a coach who has been to three Final Fours this giddy, consider how far UCLA had fallen. The Bruins followed up a 14-18 finish a year ago with a 3-4 start this season that included losses to Virginia Commonwealth and Montana, raising concerns they might miss the NCAA tournament again.
Credit Howland for offering a glimpse into his seldom-seen fun-loving side and Gold for being a good sport about a potentially awkward situation. Gold admitted afterward on Twitter that he had no idea the kiss was coming.
"I didn't think we were that close," he joked. "I was expecting flowers first."
- Ben Howland