Preview: Michigan State vs. UCLA
Michigan State has won preseason tournaments in three of the last five seasons including the Victory Bracket of the prestigious PK80 Invitational in Portland, Ore., last season, rolling past North Carolina in the championship game. The 11th-ranked Spartans are focused on bringing home another trophy this week, but it won’t be easy as they open the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic with a semifinal game against No. 17 UCLA on Thanksgiving night.
No. 6 North Carolina and Texas are on the other side of the bracket so it could take two top-20 wins within the span of 24 hours for the Spartans to take home the hardware. Either way, it figures to help toughen up Michigan State for the battles that lie ahead in a very deep Big Ten Conference race. “It’s just building that championship mentality, learning what it feels like to win a championship,” guard Cassius Winston, who took home MVP honors last year at the PK80 Tourney, told the Detroit News. “That’s the mindset we’re trying to get this week.” That means first getting past a UCLA squad that has won its first four games by an average of 22 points and presents a big problem in 7-1 freshman center Moses Brown, who is averaging 17.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game.
TV: 10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (3-1): The Spartans have bounced back from a 92-87 loss to then-No. 1 Kansas in the Champions Classic to win three straight games over Florida Gulf Coast (106-82), Louisiana-Monroe (80-59) and Tennessee Tech (101-33) without breaking much of a sweat. Winston leads the team in scoring (17.3) and assists (7.0) after averaging 12.6 points and a Big Ten-best 6.9 assists last season. Junior guard Joshua Langford is second in scoring (17.0), while 6-8, 245-pound junior forward Nick Ward, considered an NBA prospect, is averaging 15.3 points and 6.0 rebounds.
ABOUT UCLA (4-0): The Bruins surprisingly struggled in an 80-65 win over Presbyterian on Monday night, watching a 24-point second half lead dwindle to just three points thanks to a pair of 11-0 runs by the Blue Hose and 21 turnovers. “Really disappointed with the first 15 minutes of the second half,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “I thought we were making growth in the first half and then we took about two steps back in the second half.” Sophomore guard Jaylen Hands scored 19 points to lead the Bruins, while 6-10 freshman forward Jalen Hill grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds.
1. UCLA leads the series 6-2, although this marks the first meeting between the schools since the Bruins edged the Spartans 78-76 in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
2. Brown is the first UCLA freshman to record double-doubles in his first three games.
3. Winston, Ward and Langford have combined to start 168 games in their career at Michigan State and are averaging a combined 49.6 points, 13.3 rebounds and 10.5 assists so far this season.