In the end, the Bruins escaped. Barely.
Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee scored 16 points apiece and seventh-seeded UCLA held off a late comeback by the 10th-seeded Spartans 78-76 in the Southeast regional of the NCAA tournament.
The Bruins (23-10) won despite missing 17 free throws, nine of them in the final 3:40 while the Spartans were making a barrage of 3-pointers to get back into the game. They advanced to a third-round matchup against No. 2 seed Florida, which beat 15th-seeded UC Santa Barbara 79-51.
"This is not the first time that we've had a lead evaporate," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We're now 21-0, though, whenever we get a 10-point lead or more, and that's been good. You know, we've played a lot of tight games, and somehow we've found a way to win more than we've lost, and that's been big for us."
UCLA led 42-24 at the half and by as many as 23 in the second half before nearly letting the game slip away against a team hoping to make it to a third consecutive Final Four. The Bruins were 30 of 47 from the foul line and only made two field goals over the final eight minutes.
Draymond Green led Michigan State (19-15) with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists -- just the seventh official triple-double in NCAA tournament history. Durrell Summers added 15 and Spartans star Kalin Lucas finished with 11 after going the first 32 minutes without scoring.
"Any time you win in this tournament it's a big deal," Howland said after improving to 15-5 in six NCAA tournament appearances with UCLA. He's 19-8 overall.
"Beating Michigan State, I mean, this is a team that went to back-to-back Final Fours the last two years. They are a tournament tested, very hard-nosed tough group," Howland added. "It's a huge win for us, and I'm sure it's a confidence booster for our players."
Lucas, averaging 20.9 over his previous 14 games, missed his first eight shots before finally scoring on a steal and layup with 7:45 remaining. Unfortunately for Michigan State that first basket didn't come until after Honeycutt and Joshua Smith keyed a 15-2 burst that had rebuilt UCLA's lead to 23 after the Spartans pulled within 10 early in the second half.
But the game was far from over.
Green and Lucas made 3-pointers to start a game-ending 35-14 run. Freshman Keith Appling made three treys during the surge, the final one pulling the Spartans within 77-76 with 4.4 seconds remaining.
Lee went the foul line for UCLA, sinking one of two free throws, leaving Michigan State with one more chance and 4.4 seconds left. That opportunity disappeared when Lucas was called for traveling while trying to dribble through a triple team.
"I'm crushed and disappointed because we just got off to such a poor start, and yet I'm so proud of these guys," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
"They've been knocked down so many times this year that I don't think I've ever had a team that's gone through as much, and yet to battle back and almost put themselves at a chance to win was incredible. ... I give UCLA a lot of credit. They just seemed to have more energy than us early. We found a way to bounce back ... and we just fell a little short."
Returning most of its key players from last season, Michigan State began the 2010-11 ranked No. 2 but sputtered against a tough nonconference schedule and really never hit its stride in the Big Ten, either. The inconsistency left Izzo and his players wondering if the Spartans would even extend its string of consecutive NCAA appearances to 14 -- third longest in the nation behind Kansas (22) and Duke (16).
UCLA is back in the tourney after a one-year absence with a team that starts five underclassmen and had just two players -- Lee and another junior, Jerime Anderson -- with NCAA experience before Thursday night.
That lack of tournament seasoning showed down the stretch.
The Bruins finished with 18 turnovers, 11 of them in the second half. The were 9 of 18 from the foul line down the stretch.
Smith, UCLA's 6-foot-10, 305-pound freshman center, had 14 points. Nelson Reeves finished with 12, including a free throw that put the Bruins up 76-66 with less than two minutes left.
Taking advantage of four more missed free throws, Lucas and Appling made 3-pointers to keep the Spartans' hopes alive. Lucas made one of two free throws with 42.2 seconds remaining, and Appling made another 3 to finish the comeback.
"I just felt bad that we stepped up there three different times and had two shot fouls and missed all six of them," Howland said about the near collapse. "We've just got to keep working at it."