UCLA is scheduled to face Michigan State Thursday in an NCAA men’s basketball tournament First Four game in West Lafayette, Indiana, seeking to end a four-game losing streak.
“We just need to put together 40 minutes of playing hard,” Bruins guard Tyger Campbell said on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday. “We get into the end of games and we kind of … go back and forth with teams. They get the edge and we aren’t really playing with the intensity that we have been all game.”
The Spartans have lost three of their last five games.
This is the third consecutive season UCLA has faced Michigan State. The Bruins lost 87-67 in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational on Nov. 22, 2018, and 75-62 in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational on Nov. 27, 2019.
Seven of the 10 Bruins who played in the 2019 game remain on their roster and 10 of the 16 Spartans.
“When you play Michigan State, you’ve got to be worried about three things,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “You’ve got to be worried about their rebounding. You’ve got worried about how hard they play and be ready for the intensity and the physicality. And then transition defense.”
Each of the lowest four seeded at-large teams are required to play in the First Four, as are the four lowest automatic qualifiers. The Bruins (17-9) are seeded 44th in the 68-team field, one spot behind the Spartans (15-12).
The First Four has been held since 2011, when the tournament was expanded from 65 teams. In each of its first eight years, at least one First Four team won a first-round game. In 2011, Virginia Commonwealth went from the First Four to the Final Four.
Because the entire tournament will be played in Indiana in an attempt to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the overall seed list was the main determination for the bracket. In a typical year, geographic proximity to hosting sites in the early rounds helps determine bracketing decisions. UCLA and Michigan State are both considered 11th seeds in the East Region.
This is the 50th time the Bruins have advanced to the NCAA Tournament and first since 2018. The 2020 tournament was canceled three days before Selection Sunday due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
UCLA last won an NCAA tournament game in 2017, when it defeated Cincinnati, then coached by Cronin, to reach the Sweet 16.
The Spartans’ streak of 23 consecutive NCAA Tournaments is the fourth longest all-time behind Kansas’ 31 from 1990 to the present, North Carolina’s 27 from 1975-2001 and Duke’s 24 from 1996-2019.
The game is set to begin at 6:57 p.m. PDT at Mackey Arena at Purdue University and will be televised by TBS. The ABC News-owned data prediction website FiveThirtyEight.com gives the Bruins a 46% chance of winning.
The winner will advance to face Brigham Young on Saturday.