Gators, Cats, Mountaineers, Bruins win in Tampa

UCLA players including Lazeric Jones, lower left, and Reeves Nelson (22) celebrate from the bench during the second half of a Southeast Regional second-round NCAA tournament college basketball game against Michigan State in Tampa, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2011. UCLA won 78-76.

UCLA players including Lazeric Jones, lower left, and Reeves Nelson (22) celebrate from the bench during the second half of a Southeast Regional second-round NCAA tournament college basketball game against Michigan State in Tampa, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2011. UCLA won 78-76. Photo by The Associated Press.

The last time the NCAA tournament was in Tampa, there were upsets galore.

On Thursday, all the favorites prevailed.

No. 2 seed Florida and seventh-seeded UCLA moved on in the Southeast region, and No. 4 Kentucky and fifth-seeded West Virginia survived in the East region.

There was plenty of excitement along the way, though. Only the Gators made it look easy in Tampa.

UCLA missed 17 free throws, including nine in the final 3:40, and watched a 23-point deficit evaporate against Michigan State. The Spartans were off the mark with a 3-pointer in the final minute, and the Bruins closed it out by hitting a free throw and forcing a turnover.

Kentucky had its hands full with Ivy League champion Princeton. Kentucky's trio of talented freshmen, including leading scorer Brandon Knight, struggled throughout. But with the game on the line and the ball in his hands, Knight scored his first points of the game.

He made a driving layup with 2 seconds remaining to lift the Wildcats over the always-dangerous Tigers.

West Virginia used a 28-8 run to turn a double-digit deficit into a double-digit lead against Clemson. But the Tigers, even though they were playing 36 hours after a victory in the opening round, found some energy and made it close down the stretch.

Clemson cut the lead to 74-71 with 1:49 remaining, but Dalton Pepper had three consecutive steals to seal West Virginia's victory.

Florida didn't need any late heroics. Chandler Parsons got the Gators going early with two assists and back-to-back 3-pointers, and the Southeastern Conference's regular-season champions coasted the rest of the way. They looked every bit deserving of a No. 2 seed.

"They're awful good," UC Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams said. "They have accumulated a great nucleus of talent that should have an opportunity to take them a long way. I mean, anybody that thinks they're, in my opinion, overrated as a 2 seed, I think you're wrong."

Florida (27-7) made 11 of its first 15 shots, opening up a big lead, then piled on with 3-pointers, dunks and defense. Parsons flirted with his first triple-double, finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds and a career-high 10 assists.

Orlando Johnson led the Gauchos (18-14) with 21 points. Teammate Jaime Serna broke a bone in his wrist early and played just 11 minutes.

The Gators will face UCLA on Saturday. The teams met in the Final Four in 2006 and 2007, with Florida winning both games.

The Bruins might have a better matchup this time around — if they can make free throws.

UCLA (23-10) led Michigan State by 18 at halftime and was up 23 after the break 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 8 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.

Michigan State's hopes to send the game into overtime — or possibly win it with a 3-pointer — evaporated when Lucas was called traveling while trying dribble threw a triple-team to get the ball up the floor on the Spartans' final possession.

"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 coach Ben Howland said.

Kentucky and West Virginia didn't have meltdowns, but they sure had some tense moments down the stretch.

Princeton tied the game with 36.7 seconds left after two sweet shots. Kentucky coach John Calipari called timeout and drew up a play that produced Knight's only bucket.

"I have all the faith and confidence in the world in him," Calipari said. "He's not afraid to make a play. Guys like him aren't afraid to miss."

West Virginia missed a bunch of shots that allowed Clemson to mount a comeback. The Tigers turned a 12-point deficit into a one-possession game, but faltered down the stretch.

Darryl Bryant scored 19 points and Kevin Jones added 17 for West Virginia (21-11). Pepper turned two of his steals into a dunk and layup.

Andre Young scored 22 points for Clemson (22-12), which beat Alabama-Birmingham in the opening round of the tournament in Dayton, then boarded a plane for a middle-of-the-night flight to Florida to face a team that hadn't played in eight days.

"We certainly were ready to go early," Clemson coach Brad Brownlee said. "I mean, 12:15 (start) is less than ideal. I certainly hope they address it for the student-athletes' sake, because there is a wearing effect on the game."

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