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 1o 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 past 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 by an average of 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 won consecutive NCAA championships. This time a spot in the Sweet 16 is on the line. Game time is approximately 11:45 a.m. Pacific.