For six years running, either UCLA or Michigan State has made it to the Final Four.
In their combined histories, they have played in 69 NCAA tournaments, 26 Final fours and 16 national championship games.
Never have they met in an NCAA tournament game.
That changes Thursday when the Bruins meet the Spartans at approximately 6:20 p.m. Pacific in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
It figures to be a slugfest between two proud programs looking to make a surprise run in this year’s tournament. The No. 7-seeded Bruins (22-10) are back in the NCAA tournament after a one-year absence and the No. 10-seeded Spartans (19-14) are looking to shake off an inconsistent regular season and reach the final four for the third consecutive season.
“We’re playing against a team that is really experienced,” UCLA center Joshua Smith said. “They kind of had a down year, but they’re still good. These guys are mostly juniors and seniors and they’ve had success so it’s not going to be easy.”
Michigan State has five players returning from a team that lost to Butler in the national semifinals last year, including three of its top four scorers from that team. The Spartans were No. 2 in the preseason rankings heading into this season, but stumbled in Big Ten play, going 9-9 to finish tied for fourth in the conference.
Michigan State has lost nine of its last 16 games, but defeated No. 9 Purdue in the Big Ten Conference tournament for a victory many feel got the Spartans an NCAA Tournament bid.
“Nobody on our team thinks we can take this team lightly,” said UCLA guard Malcolm Lee. “Especially because they went to the Final Four last year. That gives us more to feed off of knowing that they could beat anybody no matter what their record shows or no matter what their seeding is.”
Michigan State has been to the last two Final Fours and also went in 2005. Add in a national championship in 2000 and a Final Four in 2001 and coach Tom Izzo has led teams to the Final Four in six of the last 12 years.
The Spartans have a string of 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the third longest active streak in the nation behind Kansas (22) and Duke (16).
“They’re a team that has had great success in the tournament,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland, who took teams to the Final Four in 2006, '07 and '08. “I think the world of Tom Izzo. I think he’s one of the top two or three coaches in the country. They are a team that can make a real serious run in the NCAA tournament. It wouldn’t surprise anybody.”
Guards Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers make up a strong backcourt. Lucas, a 6-1 senior, was the Big Ten player of the year in 2008-09, a first team all-conference selection last year and earned second-team honors this year after averaging 17.2 points and 3.3 assists.
Summers, a 6-5 senior, was named outstanding player of the 2010 NCAA Midwest Regional after averaging 20 points in leading the Spartans to the Final Four. He’s averaging 11.5 points this year and leads the team with 60 three-point baskets.
Forward Draymond Green, a 6-7 junior, is the team’s top inside player. He leads the team in rebounding (8.6), assists (4.0) and is second in scoring (12.3). For sheer size, freshman center Adreian Payne (6-10, 230) and sophomore center Garrick Sherman (6-10, 240) do a nice job clogging the middle in the Spartans’ man-to-man defense.
The Spartans are also very deep, with eight players averaging at least 10 minutes a game and two others averaging 8.3 or more.
“They are physical, they defend, they take good shots, they have depth they have size, they have girth,” Howland said. “The thing that they have is that they have great experience in the tournament with their team. Those guys have been there, done that, won in the tournament and that’s definitely an advantage for them.”
F-Reeves Nelson (So., 6-8, 235), 9.0 rpg
F-Tyler Honeycutt (So., 6-8, 188), 12.6 ppg
C-Anthony Stover (Fr., 6-10, 235), 25 blocks
G-Malcolm Lee (Jr., 6-5, 200), 13 ppg
G-Lazeric Jones (Jr., 6-0, 187), 3.7 apg
C-Joshua Smith (Fr., 6-10, 305), 10.6 ppg
G-Jerime Anderson (Jr., 6-2, 183), 39.3% 3-ptrs
G-Tyler Lamb (Fr., 6-5, 200), 2.7 ppg
F-Brendan Lane (So., 6-9, 223), 2.9 ppg
F-Draymond Green (Jr. 6-7, 230), 8.6 rpg
C-Adreian Payne (Fr. 6-10, 230), 26 blocks
G-Mike Kelber (Sr. 6-4, 205), 54.1% FGs
G-Durrell Summers (Sr. 6-5, 205), 11.5 ppg
G-Kalin Lucas (Sr. 6-1, 195), 17.2 ppg
F-Delvon Roe (Jr. 6-8, 230), 5.1 rpg
G-Keith Appling (Fr. 6-1, 180), 89.5% FTs
C-Garrick Sherman (So. 6-10, 240), 69.1% FGs
G-Austin Thornton (Jr. 6-5, 210), 2.0 ppg
C-Derrick Nix (So. 6-9, 270), 2.7 ppg
11/20/07 UCLA 68, Michigan State 63
12/21/04 Michigan State 76, UCLA 64
12/20/03 UCLA 64, Michigan State 58
12/28/60 UCLA 98, Michigan State 61
12/27/57 Michigan St 63, UCLA 61
12/31/53 UCLA 67, Michigan State 57
12/19/52 UCLA 60, Michigan State 55