Joshua Smith starting against Michigan St.

TAMPA, Fla. -- UCLA freshman center Joshua Smith is in the starting lineup for the Bruins' NCAA tournament opener against Michigan State on Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.

It is Smith's first start since Jan. 9 against USC. He has been coming off the bench to avoid foul trouble, but clearly coach Ben Howland figured he would need to maximize Smith, listed at 6 feet 10, 305 pounds, against a big, physical team from the Big Ten.

"A very physical game," Howland said earlier this week when asked what kind of game he expected. "That’s how they play and that’s how we like to try to play. So it’ll be a hard-fought physical game."

Tuesday, Howland said "We need to get him going right away. Josh is always a key for us and at some point here he’s got to learn to be able start the game without getting into foul trouble and I think he’s getting close to that point now."

Howland's experience in the NCAA tournament leads him to believe that officials in the NCAA tend to be a little looser than they are during the regular season, something that could ease his mind about Smith's tendency to pick up early fouls.

"Typically they let players play, which is how it should be," Howland said.