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UCLA needs postseason poise vs. tournament-tested Michigan State

Bruins need to avoid a lackluster start against Spartans, coming off consecutive trips to the Final Four.

March 16, 2011|By Ben Bolch
  • UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt shoots during a team practice session Wednesday.
UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt shoots during a team practice session Wednesday. (Associated Press )

Reporting from Tampa, Fla. — — Dancing days are here again.

Jerime Anderson held his arms out at his sides and boogied inside the St. Pete Times Forum on Wednesday evening after sinking a half-court shot during UCLA's open practice.

If it were up to the Bruins, they would Texas two-step all the way to Houston's Reliant Stadium for the Final Four.

But UCLA could be bopped out of the NCAA tournament long before that if its group of postseason neophytes doesn't grow up quickly.

2011 NCAA men's basketball championship brackets

The seventh-seeded Bruins (22-10) open with 10th-seeded Michigan State (19-14) on Thursday in a Southeast Regional second-round game in which the experience factor tilts heavily in favor of the Spartans.

Michigan State is coming off consecutive trips to the Final Four and has eight players with 1,255 combined minutes of NCAA tournament experience; UCLA has two players with 32 combined minutes, and neither Anderson nor Malcolm Lee scored in the 2009 NCAA tournament.

"We can't look at it like that, that we're a young team," Bruins junior guard Lazeric Jones said. "Don't come in so wide-eyed that we get blown away. We just have to come in like we've been here before and stick to the game plan and go out and execute."

The experience has already been full of firsts for most of UCLA's players.

Bruins want center circle back

The Bruins zipped down Interstate 405 with a police escort Tuesday before departing LAX via a chartered plane.

"That was pretty presidential," freshman center Joshua Smith said. "I've never been part of that, and I thought it was pretty tight."

Players weren't feeling quite as honored Wednesday. Freshman guard Tyler Lamb noticed an electronic scoreboard inside the St. Pete Times Forum read "Welcome University of California, Los Angles" and told Anderson, who relayed the misspelling to Coach Ben Howland.

"Can they get the spelling right on 'Los Angeles?' " Howland asked a courtside official. "We would like to have it spelled correctly."

Matchup at a glance: UCLA vs. Michigan State

Details will matter to the Bruins if they are to notch their first NCAA tournament victory in two years. They must play lockdown defense on Michigan State star Kalin Lucas and avoid the lackluster starts that have plagued them throughout the season.

"I feel if we can do all the little things," said Lee, who is expected to defend Lucas, "we can shock some people and get some wins."

Anderson said he had talked to his teammates about his postseason experience, stressing the need to expend full effort and not be intimidated by a physical style of play.

"I know people think because we're West Coast we're a little softer than others," Anderson said. "But that's not the case with this team. Our guys are ready to battle."

So are the Spartans. Michigan State guard Durrell Summers, who has a team-leading 335 minutes of NCAA tournament experience, said being a postseason veteran has its advantages.

"The whole tournament experience, we know how critical each possession is going to be," he said.

Howland said that in some ways the Bruins' inexperience could benefit them because "there's a lot of youthful exuberance and excitement about this tournament." They certainly were giddy during the open practice session, when Anderson, Tyler Honeycutt and walk-on Kenny Jones all made half-court shots.

Smith said a postseason primer won't be necessary.

"It's self-explanatory," Smith said. "I mean, [Howland] doesn't need to give us a pep talk. We already know what's at stake."

It was only three years ago that UCLA embarked on the last of three consecutive trips to the Final Four, but early defections to the NBA and some recruiting missteps have left the team bereft of the talent it typically takes for a deep postseason run.

Although expectations have been tempered, the Bruins said an exit in their NCAA tournament opener would have them headed in the wrong direction.

"It would be a step back because we expect to win every game," Lee said. "We're not satisfied just because we got into the tournament. We actually want to make some noise."

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