UCLA To Face Michigan State in First Four Game on Thursday

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - UCLA is scheduled face Michigan State on Thursday in an NCAA men's basketball tournament First Four game in West Lafayette, Indiana, with the winner advancing to face Brigham Young on Saturday.

The tournament's brackets were announced Sunday.

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 NCAA announced Sunday.

UCLA and Michigan State are both considered 11th seeds in the East Region.

The game is set to begin at 6:57 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time at Mackey Arena at Purdue University and will be televised by TBS.

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.

The Bruins enter the tournament on a four-game losing streak, including an 83-79 overtime loss to eventual champion Oregon State Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Spartans have lost three of their last five games, including a 68-57 loss to Maryland in a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal Thursday.

UCLA lost to Michigan State, 75-62, in the most recent meeting between the two teams, on Nov. 27, 2019 in the fifth-place game of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. Seven of the 10 Bruins who played in that game remain on their roster and 10 of the 16 Spartans.

UCLA leads the series, 6-4.

This is the 50th time UCLA has 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.

The Bruins last won an NCAA tournament game in 2017 when they defeated Cincinnati, then coached by current UCLA coach Mick Cronin, to reach the Sweet 16.

Michigan State's streak of 23 consecutive NCAA Tournaments is the fourth longest in NCAA history behind Kansas' 31 from 1990 to the present, North Carolina's 27 from 1975-2001 and Duke's 24 from 1996-2019.

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.

While UCLA players prepare for Thursday's game, they also have to prepare for Winter Quarter finals. Finals Week begins Monday and runs through Friday.

“Here at UCLA, we're an elite academic institution and our people in Academic Services have been through this multiple times,'' Cronin said.

“Fortunately, I'm not in charge of that one, just making sure I keep pounding the drum with the guys on their focus on our academics.

“Most of our kids that come here are aware of that. I have guys who are doing homework as soon as practice is over. I don't have to say a word to them.

“It is a challenge I will tell you. I'd only change one thing about UCLA if I could. I'd put us on semesters.''

Photo: Getty Images

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