TAMPA — Despite a draw that includes fan favorites Florida and Kentucky, today's NCAA Tournament second-round games at the St. Pete Times Forum are unlikely to be sold out.
Organizers put single-session tickets on sale Wednesday, and when the box office closed, there were about 14,000 tickets sold for today's early two-game session and about 15,000 sold for the night games. The Times Forum has a capacity of 20,000 for basketball games.
A strong walk-up crowd is still possible, and the attendance should be in line with opening-round games in 2008, when the first-day sessions drew announced crowds of 15,920 and 15,328.
Tickets are still available for today's games and Saturday's session. The cost is $77 per two-game session or $231 for a book for all six games. If Florida and Kentucky both advance, Saturday's session should outdraw the 2008 second round, which drew 14,504 to the Times Forum.
READY TO RUN: Ben Howland teams are perhaps best known for their focus on defense, but UCLA's players say they shouldn't be seen as a team that can't push the ball at a higher tempo.
"Everyone has a stereotype of us as a defensive team, but we can get up and down the court, too," said Reeves Nelson, a 6-foot-8 forward who averages 13.9 points for the Bruins. "We want to focus on defense, because when we get stops and we rebound the basketball, that drives our uptempo offense. One thing leads to the other."
Seventh-seeded UCLA (22-10) comes in averaging 70 points, 11/2 points ahead of its opponent, 10th-seeded Michigan State (19-14). But the Bruins have failed to reach 60 points in their past two games — 59 in a Pac-10 tournament loss to Oregon, 58 in an overtime win against Washington State. Tougher opponents have challenged UCLA with a fast pace: Villanova beat the Bruins 82-70, and Kansas edged them 77-76.
"We're going to try and run and they're going to try and run," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said, "so hopefully it'll be more up and down and not quite 3 yards and a cloud of dust that people would expect from a Big Ten team and a Ben Howland-coached team."
NO WORRIES: The St. Pete Times Forum canceled an NBA preseason game between the Magic and Heat in October due to an unsafe court surface from an improper cleaner being used, but organizers aren't worried about that happening this week. The NCAA now brings its own court for postseason games, as it did for the NCAA Women's Final Four in 2008, and the correct cleaners were used in preparing the floor for Wednesday's practice sessions, which went off without any problems from the eight teams in attendance.
IVY FAMILIARITY: You won't have to remind Kentucky of the dangers of playing an Ivy League team in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, the Wildcats faced Cornell in the round of 16 and found themselves up by just six points with 5:15 to play before hitting 9 of 10 free throws in the final 90 seconds for a 62-45 win.
"I think they're much like … Cornell last year. They make you defend the whole 35 seconds," guard Darius Miller said of Princeton. "We just have to be disciplined and watch their every move."
Kentucky coach John Calipari said he coached against Princeton and former coach Pete Carril when he was at Massachusetts, and he learned a lesson about defending the Princeton offense's signature back-door cuts.
"They put the sky cam over the top of the court so that you could see all the back doors and see it developing," Calipari said. "I was like the Washington Generals for Coach Carril so the country could see his back doors and all the other stuff. It's really hard to guard. … This team, they're dangerous because they play faster."