LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Ben Howland, who led Pittsburgh to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament, was hired as UCLA's coach late Wednesday night.

Howland will be formally introduced on campus Thursday, athletic director Dan Guerrero said.

``Ben Howland is an outstanding basketball coach, one of the best in the entire country, and he is the man we want to run our program,'' Guerrero said in a statement. ``He has built winning programs throughout his career and we expect that he will return UCLA basketball to the nation's elite.''

Howland, 45, becomes the eighth coach at UCLA since John Wooden retired in 1975 after leading the Bruins to 10 national championships in a 12-year span.

Howland replaces Steve Lavin, who was fired March 17 after the Bruins went 10-19 for their first losing season in 55 years.

Howland, who grew up in Southern California, led Pitt from Big East doormat to national championship contender after his hiring in 1999. He has a 168-99 record in nine years as a head coach _ five at Northern Arizona and the last four at Pitt.

``Having grown up in Southern California as a Bruin fan, watching the televised replays of the games was special for me,'' Howland said in a statement. ``To now be the head coach of this program is something I dreamed about but never thought possible. I have an appreciation for what these four letters mean in the world of college basketball.''

The day Lavin was fired, Howland said he had no plans to leave Pitt, but everything changed once the Panthers were eliminated by Marquette 77-74 in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

``I want to make it clear how hard it was for me to leave the University of Pittsburgh,'' Howland said. ``I can't imagine myself leaving Pittsburgh for anywhere except UCLA.''

Howland met with Guerrero and associate athletic director Betsy Stephenson on Sunday in Santa Barbara. Howland's parents live there, 100 miles from Los Angeles.

Howland was an assistant at UC Santa Barbara for 11 seasons before taking the Northern Arizona job in 1994.

Lavin's firing had been anticipated for months by everyone, including the 38-year-old coach.

He went 145-78 in seven years and took the Bruins to the round of 16 of the NCAA tournament five times in six years, a feat matched only by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Lavin's teams won at least 20 games every season except this one. But they never reached the Final Four.

Guerrero said it was unacceptable that UCLA went 10-19 overall and 6-12 in the Pac-10, finishing sixth for the second straight year _ its worst showing in the conference. The Bruins upset then-No. 1 Arizona in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament but then blew an 11-point lead to Oregon and lost by a point.

That ended UCLA's streak of 14 straight NCAA tournament appearances.

The Bruins had 10 losses at Pauley Pavilion, the most ever in a season, and the average attendance of 8,348 was the team's lowest since 1993 in the 12,819-seat arena.