UCLA surges late to defeat Michigan State in First Four overtime thriller
They stood with arms draped over one another’s shoulders on the bench in the final moments, swaying gently back and forth.
They had stayed together when their season threatened to unravel once more, making the plays they previously couldn’t over the final minutes in what amounted to a delightful reversal of fortune from the previous 2½ weeks.
The UCLA Bruins were the ones down big in the first half. They were the ones who fought back with seemingly no chance.
Trailing Michigan State by as many as 14 points in the first half and by 11 at halftime Thursday night, the Bruins forced overtime before further extending their first appearance in an NCAA tournament in three years.
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A loud eight-clap broke out high inside Mackey Arena after the Bruins prevailed for a most improbable 86-80 victory in a First Four game that came courtesy of one gutty play after another inside a building that stands as a shrine to former UCLA coach John Wooden.
“Maybe Coach’s luck was with us,” coach Mick Cronin said after his first NCAA tournament victory in his first try with the Bruins.
Guard David Singleton bounded gleefully toward his teammates after the final buzzer sounded on UCLA’s first NCAA tournament triumph since 2017.
“The players really needed this,” Cronin said, alluding to his team having blown four late leads in succession before this game. “I’m really, really happy for the guys.”
No. 11 seed UCLA (18-9) will play sixth-seeded Brigham Young on Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in the first round. It’s the start of what the Bruins hope will be three games in five days that would be needed to reach a regional semifinal.
Back-to-back baskets by Juzang gave the Bruins a four-point lead to start the overtime and sparked audible unease from a crowd that leaned heavily in the Spartans’ favor.
Late in the game, Michigan State (15-13) got the ball back down by three points before Aaron Henry lost a pass out of bounds. UCLA’s Cody Riley powered in for a two-handed dunk, extending the Bruins’ advantage to five points, before the Spartans countered with a basket that proved especially costly when Juzang went down hard along the baseline and had to be helped off the court.
Jaquez finished with 27 points and Juzang added 23 before his departure with a sprained right ankle. He had injured the same ankle two weeks ago, forcing him to miss the Bruins’ game against USC.
UCLA never led before a spinning layup by Jules Bernard with 5:48 left in regulation. Then came a familiar letdown, appearing to bite the Bruins harder than ever. The Spartans scored the next seven points, seemingly taking control, before Jaquez wrested it back.
Highlights from UCLA’s 86-80 overtime victory over Michigan State in the NCAA tournament First Four.
The sophomore guard carried his team after a horrid start, rising for three-pointers and fighting for rebounds. His biggest rebound came on his own missed free throw, Jaquez getting fouled on a layup with 28.7 seconds left. He made the resulting free throw to tie the score at 77-77.
Henry rose for a jumper on Michigan State’s next possession but Bernard was there to contest it, the ball falling out of bounds and the referees initially awarding the ball to the Spartans with 3.3 seconds left while ruling that Bernard had tipped the shot. But after a review, they awarded the ball to the Bruins.
Juzang’s halfcourt shot at the buzzer bounced off the back of the rim, sending the game into overtime.
Henry scored 16 points for the Spartans, who made only one of five shots in the overtime while reverting to their spotty play from earlier in the season when they were essentially a .500 team.
UCLA opened the second half with a 12-4 spurt, finally generating some defensive stops, to pull within 48-45. The Bruins had a chance to cut further into the deficit when Tyger Campbell drove toward the rim, but he missed a layup and forward Mac Etienne missed two putbacks.
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“We tried to turn up the heat defensively in the second half and tried to make them uncomfortable as much as we could,” Cronin said. “The kids responded.”
The Bruins had a few more pushes left in them, finally going ahead on Bernard’s move that more than made up for two previous airballs.
A year after the pandemic led to the cancellation of the NCAA tournament, the Bruins pulled what amounted to a no-show in the first half while falling behind 44-33. The Spartans were so hyped that they almost came to blows among themselves, coach Tom Izzo and Gabe Brown getting into a heated spat while walking toward the locker room at the game’s midpoint.
Almost everything else went UCLA’s way. Not long after the final Bruin disappeared into the tunnel for the last time, Semisonic’s “Closing Time” blared over the arena’s loudspeakers.
Finally, after so many unhappy endings, the final act belonged to the Bruins.
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