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.