Friday, March 18, 2011

NCAA Tournament 2011: UCLA pushed to the brink, pulls out 78-76 victory

UCLA players, including Lazeric Jones, lower left, and Reeves Nelson (22), celebrate from the bench during the second half of a Southeast Regional second-round NCAA Tournament game against Michigan State. Photo JOHN RAOUX, AP

UCLA pushed to the brink, pulls out 78-76 victory

Published: March 17, 2011
Updated: March 18, 2011 12:21 a.m.

Tampa, Fla. – A 23-point lead long gone, a Final Four-tested Michigan State team in its face, UCLA had a choice in the closing moments Thursday night.
Grow up or go home.

The Bruins escaped with a 78-76 victory in the NCAA Tournament Southeast Regional's second round in a defining moment for a UCLA squad that for much of this season defied definition.

"This is what March is about," Bruins point guard Lazeric Jones said.

Playing their best basketball of the season through the first 30 minutes, opening up a 64-41 lead with 8:35 left, the Bruins didn't secure a spot in Saturday's third-round showdown with Florida until Spartans guard Kalin Lucas was whistled for traveling with 0.2 seconds remaining.

"It was pretty at the beginning, ugly at the end, but we'll take it," UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt said.

In both ends of the game, the overwhelming half-hour, the frantic finish, a Bruins squad that started a freshman, two sophomores and a junior college transfer against a Spartans team with eight players with Final Four experience, grew up.

"It means a lot for us," said guard Malcolm Lee, who like Honeycutt, finished with 16 points and held Lucas scoreless until the final 7:44.

"A lot of teams kind of wrote us before this game even though we were the higher seed. We used that as motivation and we came out with a lot of intensity.

"I was saying 'Let's mess up people's brackets.' (President) Obama being one of them."

The Bruins jumped to a 7-0 lead, stretched it to 42-24 by halftime, and then responded to the first in a series of Michigan State rallies with a 15-2 run to go up 23.

"Didn't we play good today?" UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "I mean at both ends, it was a dominating performance."

Asked if he was happy or relieved, Honeycutt smiled.



It's nervous time as UCLA defeats Michigan State, 78-76

Bruins let most of a 23-point lead disappear, but they hang on to advance to a matchup against Florida.

By Ben Bolch
The Los Angeles Times
11:10 PM PDT, March 17, 2011

Reporting from Tampa, Fla.

It was grow up or go home.

As UCLA's once-comfortable lead dwindled into single digits in its NCAA tournament opener, Michigan State had the momentum and the core of its last two Final Four teams on the floor.

The Bruins countered with two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman whose postseason experience before Thursday night had mostly involved ordering pizza and watching games on television.

"We were playing so well and had a big lead and the next thing we know we're up a few with 30 seconds left and they had the ball," Bruins freshman center Joshua Smith said. "We had to look at each other and say, 'Hey, we're going to do this.'"

It took a few nervous moments for the postseason novices before seventh-seeded UCLA ultimately prevailed, holding on for a 78-76 victory over the 10th-seeded Spartans in a Southeast Regional second-round game at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Michigan State sliced what had been a 23-point deficit to one with 4.4 seconds left when Keith Appling made the Spartans' ninth three-pointer of the second half to make it 77-76.

The Spartans fouled Malcolm Lee before the Bruins could inbound the ball. Lee made the first free throw and missed the second, but Michigan State's Kalin Lucas was called for traveling near midcourt with two-tenths of a second left.

Once Honeycutt inbounded the ball to Jerime Anderson, the Bruins (23-10) were on their way to the third round to face second-seeded Florida (27-7) on Saturday afternoon. The Gators defeated the Bruins in the 2006 national title game and a national semifinal a year later.

Things went haywire for UCLA largely because the Bruins made only three of 12 free throws over the final 1:31.

"We make our foul shots," Bruins Coach Ben Howland said, "we win this game comfortably."

UCLA pulled through for its 100th NCAA tournament win thanks to the defensive tenacity of Lee and a balanced offensive attack in which four players scored in double figures.

Lee scored 16 points and held Lucas, Michigan State's leading scorer, to 11 points on four-for-14 shooting. Lucas was scoreless until making a layup off a turnover with 7:45 left in the game, and it came only after Honeycutt dribbled the ball off his shoe to set Lucas up for a breakaway layup.

"It kind of pushes us to see Malcolm shut down their best player," UCLA guard Lazeric Jones said. "He stayed on him, fought over screens and made every shot tough."

Honeycutt said he drew motivation from a verbal slight delivered Wednesday by Michigan State guard Durrell Summers, who said he didn't think Honeycutt "guards that good or crashes the glass, but he just plays athletic."

Honeycutt responded with 16 points, five assists, six rebounds, two steals and three blocks. Nelson had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Smith shrugged off a hit to his funny bone to finish with 14 points.

The Bruins also got an unexpected lift from Brendan Lane. The sophomore forward provided a season-high eight points off the bench, including a hook shot that gave UCLA a 64-41 lead with 8:35 left before things started to go astray.

"They've been in those kinds of situations many times," Lee said of the Spartans. "We knew they were going to come back."

UCLA made Michigan State (19-15) look like the postseason neophyte early, thoroughly flustering the Spartans on the way to a 42-24 halftime lead. Lucas missed all eight of his first-half shots, a stunning display of inefficiency for a player who had dropped 30 points on Purdue last week in the Big Ten Conference tournament.

"With a team like that, you've just got to be aggressive, just got to hit them in the mouth first," Smith said, "and that's what we did in the first half."


So close to blowing it, UCLA thrives and survives in NCAA opener

Bruins clank away much of a 23-point lead, but pull out the win against Michigan State, somehow channeling missing energy, finding new fuel and honoring their history to grab madness by the horns.

Bill Plaschke
The Los Angeles Times
11:15 PM PDT, March 17, 2011

Reporting from Tampa, Fla.

Standing in the middle of a locker room filled with giggles and yelps, Joshua Smith's face suddenly went flat.

"I'm not going to lie," he said. "I was scared."

Standing in the corner of a locker room that buzzed like a rumpus room, Tyler Honeycutt's voice suddenly went soft.

"Man, oh, man," he said.

It's nervous time as UCLA edges Michigan State

Those nutty UCLA kids matured Thursday in a 78-76 win over Michigan State in their NCAA tournament opener, but, goodness, those growing pains.

Ouch went the rim as they clanked away much of a 23-point lead in the final 8 1/2 minutes.

Ooof went the floor as they fell over each other trying to catch a Michigan State team that held the ball in the final seconds with a chance to win.

The Bruins could have blown it. The Bruins should have blown it. They missed nine of their final 12 free throws. They allowed the Spartans to make nine three-pointers in the second half.

The Bruins came so close to blowing it, they actually dreamed they had blown it.

"I kept envisioning Kalin Lucas coming down the floor to hit a half-court shot to beat us," said Honeycutt.

But the Bruins didn't blow it because Lucas, in attempting to live Honeycutt's nightmare, was correctly called for traveling while being harassed by the Bruins in the backcourt in the final second.

The Spartans star walked. And the frightened, fragile Bruins soared, winning their NCAA tournament opener for the fifth time in six appearances under Coach Ben Howland.

One week after being humiliated in their Pacific 10 Conference tournament opener against Oregon, they somehow channeled missing energy, found new fuel, honored their history, and grabbed the madness by the horns.

Under Howland, such games aren't just something the Bruins do, it's something they are.

"Games like this are something that Coach Howland does really well," said guard Jerime Anderson. "This time of year, he has a way of getting us really focused, we know what these four letters mean on our jersey and we play like it."

They played like it in the first 32 minutes, then played like it in the final second, thriving and surviving on the shoulders of two players bearing chips.

There was Malcolm Lee, one of the nation's best defenders who struggled through the Oregon game with a knee injury and who was inexplicably not named the Pac-10's defensive player of the year.

His orders? Stop the veteran guard Lucas. His response? Done.

Lucas missed all seven of his shots in the first half and finished with as many turnovers as baskets — four — while blowing it on the last play.

"Luckily we were able to take a few hits and just withstand it," said Lee, who trudged off the floor shaking his head in exhaustion and amazement.

Then there was Honeycutt, an immensely talented athlete who could be soon headed for NBA, but who has never really been respected as a collegian.

Witness the pregame quotes from the Spartans' Durrell Summers:

"You know, I don't think he guards that good or crashes the glass," said Summers.

Well, you know, Honeycutt scored six of the Bruins' first eight points while crashing the glass, then later took charge during the team's most stressful moments, finishing with 16 points, six rebounds and two steals.

"Yeah, Coach told me during films session before the game exactly what [Summers] thought about me, and I did take it as motivation," said Honeycutt.

Of course his coach told him. Leave it to Howland to work all the angles, fill all the gaps, lead a team with no seniors through the flames of an opponent coming off consecutive Final Four appearances, rising from midseason irrelevance to another March march.

The players and fans and media wince at Howland's tight fist during the season, but everyone is lining up to pump that fist during the tournament, everything changing but the coach himself.

The first thing he said to me after the game?

"Late night," he said, barely cracking a smile.

One of the main things he took from this game?

"We make our foul shots, we win this game, I think, comfortably," he said. "But we'll get back to that."

Uh-oh. Guess who is probably in some obscure central Florida gym shooting free throws while you are reading this? It was one of Howland's legendary practices that brought the team out of the carefree attitude that led to the Oregon loss — the longest and toughest Saturday of the year — and it was his sideline demeanor that made them remember.

"I'm surprised he's got a voice," said Anderson, smiling. "He gets so stressed out over there."

And now, their punishing reward, a second-round game Saturday here against Florida, the best team that I saw anywhere Thursday, blowing out UC Santa Barbara in a manner that would blow out nearly anybody.

"But, you know, we're pretty good too," said Anderson, smiling, as if he really believes it, and maybe, finally, we should too.


UCLA walks away safely, advances to third round of NCAA Tournament

By Jon Gold, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Daily News
Posted: 03/17/2011 10:30:23 PM PDT
Updated: 03/18/2011 03:04:08 AM PDT

TAMPA, Fla. - UCLA has been there before.

Comfortable, easy, breezy, a mai-tai in hand, beach umbrella up.

And then the storm came, and the Bruins had to run for cover.

Only in the end, it was Michigan State's Kalin Lucas who took a few too many steps, and No. 7-seed UCLA withstood a furious Spartans rally to advance to a Saturday showdown with No. 2-seeded Florida after a 78-76 win at Tampa's St. Pete Times Forum.

After building a 23-point lead with 8 minutes, 35 seconds left, UCLA eased off the gas pedal, essentially grinding to an absolute stop. After Malcolm Lee's missed free throw with four seconds left, it took a travel violation by Lucas with less than a second left to close it out for the Bruins.

"It got closer than we wanted; we weren't able to make free throws, gave up too many threes," UCLA sophomore small forward Tyler Honeycutt said. "The game wasn't close until about the last 10 minutes when they came back. We have to do a better job closing out games. We've done this too many times. But this is going to be one of our biggest learning experiences.

"We lose this game, we go home."

Even as their focus slipped, as their attention to detail waned, the Bruins stayed focused on that simple premise. But at times, it sure didn't look like it.

Michigan State shot 48.6 percent from the field in the second half after a 29.6-percent first half, hitting 9-of-18 3-pointers after the break.

Meanwhile, UCLA's free throws clanked off the rim as if immune to the net, the Bruins shooting just 15 of 28 (53.6 percent) in the second half.

"We definitely could've made our foul shots down the stretch, and it definitely wouldn't have been the two-point game it ended there," UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. "We definitely could've hit our foul shots.

"We'll practice them (today). We make our foul shots, and we win this game comfortably. We'll get back to that."

Ultimately, though, the Bruins weathered the storm.

Only because they built such a sturdy hut, though.

UCLA jumped to a 42-24 halftime lead - the team's biggest advantage at the break since its season-opening 83-50 win over Cal State Northridge - by playing incredibly tight defense and working the ball inside out.

A balanced offensive effort was spurred by the post play of Honeycutt, freshman center Joshua Smith and sophomore power forwards Reeves Nelson and Brendan Lane. Honeycutt had 16 points, three blocks and two steals, Smith had 14 points, Nelson 12 and 10 rebounds, and Lane had a crucial eight points and four rebounds off the bench.

The Bruins kept rolling early in the second half, slowly and steadily rebounding from each Michigan State spurt, as the Spartans cut the lead to 10 with 13:16 left before a 15-2 UCLA run put the Bruins up 64-41 with less than nine minutes to play.

And then, Michigan State showed why it had advanced to back-to-back Final Fours.

Lucas had 11 second-half points, forward Draymond Green had 19 and backup guard Keith Appling hit three second-half 3-pointers as the Spartans crept back.

"We slacked up by nature; you're going to slack up with a 24-point lead," Honeycutt said. "You know, 'There's two points here, there's two points there.' But they end up adding up."

They keep adding up, while Howland's hair keeps disappearing.

Heading into the tournament, he joked with reporters that his brothers both have full heads of hair, and here he is, the before picture in a Rogaine commercial.

Asked if he worried he'd lose his eyebrows after this one, Howland chuckled, corralled his mother who was standing near and threw an arm around her shoulder.

"We have prominent brows in our family," Howland laughed. "Those will stay."


Rapid Reaction: UCLA 78, Michigan State 76

March, 17, 2011 Mar 179:06PM PT
By Peter Yoon, UCLA Report

TAMPA, Fla. -- In the type of thriller that is responsible for the term March Madness, UCLA nearly blew a 23-point second-half lead, but held off a fury of Michigan State 3-pointers and won, 78-76, in a second round NCAA tournament game at the St. Pete Times forum.

No. 7-seeded UCLA (23-10) had an 18-point halftime lead and stretched it to 64-41 with 8:35 to play, but Michigan State got hot from the outside and made six 3-point baskets in the final 6:13. Meanwhile, UCLA had troubles from the free-throw line, making only 3 of 12 foul shots in the final 1:31 as the No. 10-seeded Spartans closed a 75-66 deficit to 77-76 with 4.4 seconds to play.

UCLA guard Malcolm Lee made one of two free throws then forced a turnover on the ensuing possession and UCLA advanced.

Turning point: It might not have seemed all that relevant given how close the game ended up, but Joshua Smith's hook shot with 8:56 remaining gave UCLA an 11-point lead. The Bruins have not lost a game this season when taking a double-digit lead at any point. They are now 21-0 in such games.

Player of the game: Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA. He played one of his most complete games of the season with 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots. Perhaps Honeycutt was motivated by some pregame comments made by Michigan State's Durrell Summers. His huge rebound on a missed Spartans 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining and UCLA up 77-73 all but clinched the game. Michigan State's Draymond Green also deserves mention for a triple-double of 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in the losing effort.

Key stat: Kalin Lucas, Michigan State's leading scorer for the season, had only 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting. Lucas was averaging 17.2 points this season and 20 points over the last 14 games, but was held scoreless until there was 7:44 left in the game. He was the Big Ten player of the year in 2009 and a key contributor to the Spartans' Final Four runs in each of the past two seasons, but was a non-factor for much of Thursday thanks to the tenacious defense played on him by Lee, a Pac-10 all-defensive team selection.

Miscellaneous: The battle of the boards was always going to be a deciding factor in this game and UCLA's 39-36 edge on the glass certainly was. Michigan State had outrebounded opponents, 35-30, over the season and UCLA held a 37-32 average rebounding edge this season.

What’s next: UCLA will face No. 2-seeded Florida on Saturday in a rematch of the 2006 national championship and '07 national semifinal games. Florida, a 79-52 winner over UC Santa Barbara, won both those games and consecutive NCAA championships. This time a spot in the Sweet 16 is on the line. Game time is approximately 11:45 a.m. PT.


Blowing big lead is old hat for UCLA

March, 17, 2011 Mar 1711:14PM PT
By Peter Yoon, UCLA Report

TAMPA, Fla. -- So, UCLA nearly blew a 23-point lead?


What else is new?

This is simply the way the Bruins do things this season.

UCLA's 78-76 victory over Michigan State in their NCAA tournament opener Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum was just the latest in a long line of blowout victory turned nail biter for the Bruins.

UCLA (23-10) dominated the first 30 minutes of the game, taking a 42-24 halftime lead and extended it to 64-41 with 8:35 to play, but the victory was never going to be that easy. Not with this UCLA team. It never seems to be.

But a victory it was and so UCLA will advance to play second-seeded Florida on Saturday at approximately 11:45 a.m. PT with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.

And for that, Bruins fans can thank, in part, UCLA's proclivity for blowing leads throughout the season.

"We’ve been in a lot of situations like this where we were up by a lot and teams came back, but we dealt with it like we did in the past with a lot of other games," said guard Malcolm Lee.

UCLA has seen double-digit leads shrink to one or two points at least five other times this season, but has managed to win all of those games. In fact the Bruins improved to 21-0 in games that they have held a lead of 10 points or more at some point, but they sure don't make things easy.

Michigan State made 7 of 9 3-point baskets in the final 6:17 and closed to within a point with four seconds to play, but UCLA, as it has done so often this season, walked off the court with the 100th NCAA tournament victory in school history.


Nothing free about these throws

March, 17, 2011 Mar 1711:34PM PT
By Peter Yoon, UCLA Report

TAMPA, Fla. -- It didn't have to be that close.

UCLA barely hung on for a 78-76 victory over Michigan State in an NCAA tournament second-round game Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, but if not for some atrocious free-throw shooting down the stretch, the Bruins would have won by a much more comfortable margin.

Michigan State trailed 64-48 with 6:17 remaining and did what any desperate team would do in that situation: They tried to extend the game by fouling.

The Bruins had only two more field goal attempts the rest of the game, but attempted 22 free throws during the final 5:19 and made only 12 of them.

It got particularly ugly in the waning moments as the Bruins made only three of 12 from the free-throw line in the final 1:31. Michigan State cut a 76-66 UCLA lead to 77-76 with four seconds to go simply with great free-throw defense.

"We've just got to keep working at it," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We've improved a lot as a foul shooting team from the beginning of the year to where we are now. And it's something that we will do tomorrow. We'll shoot some foul shots tomorrow."

UCLA entered the game shooting 68.3 percent on free throws for the season and had shot better than 70 percent in five of its last eight games, but missing became contagious down the stretch.

Joshua Smith, Lazeric Jones and Tyler Honeycutt each went 0-for-2 on trips to the line during the final 1:15. Jones leads the team at 82.1 percent for the season. Malcolm Lee went to the line with four seconds to play and made only one of two when two of two would have meant the best Michigan State could do was tie.

"I was getting worried," Smith said. "I was missing free throws, everyone was missing free throws. So yeah, I was worried. But a win is a win."

For the game, UCLA made 30 of 47 free throw attempts, but were 15 of 28 (53.6 percent) in the second half.


Brendan Lane leads solid bench play

March, 18, 2011 Mar 1812:06AM PT
By Peter Yoon, UCLA Report

TAMPA, Fla. -- UCLA's role players had a pretty big role in the Bruins' 78-76 squeaker of a victory over Michigan State on Thursday night in an NCAA tournament game at the St. Pete Times Forum, and perhaps none bigger than Brendan Lane.

Jerime Anderson, Tyler Lamb and Anthony Stover also contributed valuable minutes off the bench for UCLA, but Lane, who has been fairly quiet for the last two months, stood out by scoring a season-high eight points with four rebounds in 19 minutes -- the most he has played since Jan. 9.

"I knew I was going to play a few more minutes tonight because we wanted to keep Reeves [Nelson] fresh," Lane said. "So when I went in there I just tried to play as hard as I can and stay in there as long as I can."

Nelson has played 32 minutes or more in seven of the last eight games, so coach Ben Howland, who has said all season that he needs to cut a few minutes from Nelson, Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt, made a concentrated effort to do so Thursday.

"That was on purpose, and that's something we'll look to do again on Saturday," Howland said.

Lamb and Stover played only seven minutes each and Anderson played 19 minutes -- below his season average -- but Howland strategically used each reserve at crucial times just before media timeouts so the regulars could get some extra rest.

Each player was solid during is minutes. Stover had two blocked shots and played tremendous post defense. Lamb helped keep Michigan State leading scorer Kalin Lucas in check and also took a charge when he was in and Anderson was the steady playmaker and court leader he has been all season for the Bruins.

"I thought our bench gave us tremendous minutes," Howland said.


Honeycutt had extra motivation

March, 18, 2011 Mar 1812:35PM PT
By Peter Yoon, UCLA Report

TAMPA, Fla.--Tyler Honeycutt had a standout performance Thursday night in UCLA's 78-76 victory over Michigan State in the NCAA tournament opener, an act he said fueled in part by pre-game comments made by Spartans' guard Durrell Summers.

"Coach told me during film session before the game exactly what [Summers] thought about me, and I did take it as motivation," said Honeycutt, who had 16 points on five of nine shooting, including three of four three-point baskets.

Honeycutt, averaging 12.6 before that game, set the tone early by scoring a three-pointer on UCLA's first possession and UCLA raced to a 42-24 halftime lead. He also played defense with a high level of energy--something he's been criticized for lacking--and routinely fought for difficult rebounds. He had six rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots.

He skied high for a strong rebound with 14 seconds remaining and UCLA clinging to a 77-73 lead. He missed an ensuing pair of free throws but he wasn't alone in that endeavor, and quietly played a complete game with high intensity.

"I wasn't going to go out and play selfish and try to get at him just one-on-one," Honeycutt said of Summers. "I just
wanted to win, and shots opened up for me, everything worked out how we wanted it to."


Joshua Smith starts, gets physical

March, 18, 2011 Mar 1812:46PM PT
By Peter Yoon, UCLA Report

TAMPA, Fla.--UCLA wanted to send an early message to Michigan State Thursday night and they did so even before the opening tipoff of UCLA's 78-76 victory over the Spartans.

Coach Ben Howland started freshman center Joshua Smith for the first time in 10 weeks simply because the Bruins wanted to show they weren't going to back down from the physical, Big Ten style employed by the Spartans.

"With a team like that, you've just got to be aggressive, just got to hit them in the mouth first, and that's what we did in the first half," Smith said.

Smith, who had been sitting out to start games in order to avoid foul trouble, scored UCLA's second basket of the game with a layup inside. He picked up an early foul, but as the game progressed, he figured out he could move bodies around in the paint and that his 6-10, 305-pound frame was no match for the Spartans.

He finished with 14 points on five of seven shooting.

"I thought it was a great move on Ben's part to start him," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "He's a load in there, and we haven't faced anybody like that so it was something new."

Smith's size and inside presence from the start was a key reason UCLA was able to out-rebound the Spartans, 25-14, in the first half and helped set a physical tone that impressed Michigan State.

"I think that's one thing Ben Howland has done, he's taken smash-mouth basketball to the West coast," Izzo said.

Smith said he found out last week that he would start against Michigan State and said he felt like he needed to live up to that role.

"When coach asked me to start, I took it upon myself to take my game to a whole nother level," Smith said.


Bruins give up huge lead, squeak past Michigan State, 78-76

Published March 17, 2011 in Sports: Bruin Sights
The Daily Bruin
Updated: March 18, 2011, 3:03 AM

TAMPA, Fla. – Behind an outstanding first half, the Bruins edged out Michigan State by the narrowest of margins, clinging to a 78-76 win Thursday night in Tampa.

The No. 7-seeded Bruins (23-10) relinquished a 23-point lead in the second half, going three-for-12 from the free-throw line in the last 1:31 of the game. They needed a traveling violation from Spartan senior guard Kalin Lucas in the final 4.4 seconds to seal the deal.

UCLA’s 100th tournament victory sets up a date with No. 2-seed Florida on Saturday.

Despite their near collapse, the Bruins held Tom Izzo’s team to 31 percent shooting from the field in the first half and took an 18-point lead into halftime. A trio of UCLA guards held Lucas, the Spartans’ leading scorer, to 11 points on four-of-14 shooting.

The Spartans cut the lead to one when freshman guard Keith Appling nailed a 3-pointer from the wing.

UCLA had to take a timeout initially after the bucket, unable to solve the MSU press. Then, when junior guard Malcolm Lee was fouled coming out of the timeout, he hit only one of two free throws to give the Spartans the ball with 4.4 seconds left.

When Lee’s miss was outletted to Lucas, the senior with more than 200 minutes of tournament experience traveled as he moved up the right sideline under heavy defensive pressure. The travel was called rather than a foul, giving the Bruins the ball and the game.

UCLA will play at 12:30 p.m. PST on Saturday.


Bruins earn narrow two-point victory over Michigan State after nerve-racking final seconds

Published March 17, 2011, 11:33 pm in Men's Basketball Sports
The Daily Bruin

TAMPA, Fla. — There’s a reason they say you “survive and advance” in the NCAA Tournament.

An inexperienced UCLA team learned the mantra well late Thursday night, thousands of miles from home.

The Bruins nearly relinquished their second-half lead, giving Michigan State the ball with a chance to win the second-round game with 4.4 seconds remaining.

But a traveling violation on the Spartans’ best player saved the Bruins’ season and brought a merciless end to a year of bad breaks for Michigan State.

“I thought the first 30 minutes we played as well as we have all year,” coach Ben Howland said. “If we make our foul shots, I think we win this game comfortably.”

The Bruins’ (23-10) exceedingly narrow 78-76 victory over Michigan State (19-15) sets up a date with the No. 2-seeded Florida Gators on Saturday.

But as Howland alluded to, UCLA is lucky to still be playing.

The Bruins went three-for-12 from the free-throw line in the last 1:31 to aid Michigan State’s comeback effort. None were more critical than the three missed attempts by Bruins in the final 14 seconds.

After pulling down a critical defensive rebound, sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt was fouled immediately in the double bonus. With the Bruins up 77-73, he missed both free throws, and off the miss, a Spartan found freshman guard Keith Appling on the wing for a 3-pointer with 4.4 seconds remaining.

Coming out of a timeout after the bucket, UCLA junior guard Malcolm Lee was fouled before the inbound. Lee made only one of two free throws, which gave the Spartans a chance to win or tie with 4.4 seconds still remaining.

But after a Spartan boarded Lee’s miss and outletted the ball to senior Kalin Lucas, the guard was whistled for a traveling violation as he fought through traffic along the sideline.

Michigan State fans screamed for a foul. But the whistle they got sealed their team’s fate.

Lucas, Michigan State’s leader in points and experience, teared up during the postgame press conference. He was held to only 11 points on four-of-14 shooting for the game and failed to score in the first 32 minutes of the contest. He finished his career with that traveling violation.

“We knew that he was going to come back,” said Lee, who defended Lucas throughout the night. “But luckily we were able to withstand a few hits.”

The Bruins’ stellar play in the first half allowed them to take those hits.

The Bruins took an 18-point lead into halftime, thanks to an 11-rebound advantage and defense that held Michigan State to 31 percent shooting.

And although the Spartans heated up from beyond the arc, going nine-for-18 in the second half, UCLA stayed in it with a balanced attack that saw four Bruins finish in double digits.

“They’re experienced,” Lee said of Michigan State. “We knew they were going to come back.”

Losing big leads has become something of a regularity for this UCLA team, but so too has winning games where they give up a lead.

With its 100th tournament victory Thursday night, UCLA went to 21-0 on the year when holding a double-digit lead.

And no one could accuse the Bruins of coming out flat in Tampa, unlike their shocking loss against Oregon in their last contest. UCLA opened on a 7-0 run and never trailed.

“No sour grapes here,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We got beat by an aggressive team. They play hard, they play with passion. The right team won tonight.”

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