PITTSBURGH — With "Final Four" scribbled on his shoes, fifth-year senior Rico Hines played his best game of the season Friday, joining three freshmen and a sophomore on a UCLA reserve unit that blinded Mississippi with energy and intensity.
Hines made his first three-point basket of the season, scored a season-high seven points and had two steals in 16 minutes.
"I don't know if any of the guys knew I did it," he said of the shoe art. "Getting to the Final Four was one of my goals when I signed a letter of intent.
"My roommate from high school, Nate James, got there with Duke. Now I want to get there with my team."
In the four games leading up to the NCAA tournament, freshman Dijon Thompson had dramatically improved his scoring, averaging 7.5 points in 12 minutes a game.
The versatile 6-foot-7 wing from Redondo Union High made 10 of 15 field-goal attempts (66.7%) during the span, a vast improvement over the previous 19 games, when he was 18 of 57 (31.6%).
But no one could have expected his dynamic performance against Mississippi, scoring a career-high 16 points on six-of-eight shooting. He also had three steals and three rebounds in 15 minutes.
"I've been more confident lately, especially when I play with the reserve unit," he said. "With the second group, it's like I have to score. We knew we'd be that spark and play important minutes."
Now he's ready to play alongside veterans Jason Kapono, Matt Barnes and Billy Knight without pressing.
"I'm ready to go out there with anybody now," he said.
This was the Bruins' second 22-point victory of the season over a Southeastern Conference opponent.
The Bruins defeated Alabama, the No. 2-seeded team in the South Regional, 79-57, on Dec. 8 in the John Wooden Classic.
Mississippi split with Alabama, losing by 20 points at Tuscaloosa and winning by 28 at Oxford.