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UCLA, Michigan State to wage matchup of big men in NCAA Tournament

TAMPA — The biggest matchup in Thursday's second round, quite literally, will be in the post during the final game between UCLA and Michigan State.

The Spartans have center Derrick Nix, 6 feet 9 and 285 pounds, but he'll be undersized compared to UCLA freshman Joshua Smith, who is 6-10 and 305.

"I don't know if Nix has ever played against anybody that dwarfs him," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Sunday night. "But that's going to happen in this game."

Nix, who weighed as much as 340 pounds in high school, averages 2.7 points off the bench in 8.3 minutes per game, but Izzo said he'll play more Thursday, knowing UCLA can't have all five players running up and down the court all the time.

Smith has put up big numbers as a freshman, averaging 10.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

"If those two get in the key, there better be some reinforcement in the key," Izzo joked.

SINGLE-SESSION TICKETS: Tickets for this week were initially only available in an all-sessions book at $231 each, but organizers will put single-session tickets on sale this morning at 9 at a cost of $77 per two-game session.

WHO WILL BRING MORE: The rivalry between Florida and Kentucky should continue all week, though the two SEC schools are in separate regions of the bracket. The first question is, which fan base will have a greater presence in the St. Pete Times Forum?

And while Florida has the higher seed — Kentucky beat the Gators in Sunday's SEC championship — the oddsmakers think the Wildcats are more likely to win it all in the next three weekends. VegasInsider.com has Kentucky as a 15-to-1 shot to win the NCAA title, while Florida is set at 20-1.

As for the rest of the Tampa teams, West Virginia is a 35-1 shot and UCLA and Michigan State are both 60-1.

JUNGLE KARMA: Perhaps UC-Santa Barbara's most outspoken alum is sports radio host Jim Rome, who often brings up the Gauchos on his nationally syndicated show.

"Trust me, UC Santa Barbara was the ONE team (Florida coach) Billy Donovan was praying CBS didn't flash beneath him," he wrote Sunday at Twitter.com/jimrome. "Anyone but the Gauchos. Ask him. Do it."

DOESN'T MATTER: Fifth-seeded West Virginia had to wait two days longer than most of the NCAA field to find out who they'll be playing at 12:15 Thursday, but waiting for Tuesday's Clemson-UAB game had the unintended benefit of forcing the Mountaineers to focus initially on themselves.

"Last year we had, I think, five or six days to prepare for Duke. And I thought that was too many days," senior guard Joe Mazzulla told the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette. "We got away from what we wanted to do and we really concentrated on them for five straight days. I think this is better for us, where we focus on us. It's almost like a regular-season game, where you have a day and a half to prepare for them."

>>if you go

Thursday in Tampa

12:15 p.m.: No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 Clemson, Ch. 10

2:45 p.m.: No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Princeton, Ch. 10

6:50 p.m.: No. 2 Florida vs. No. 15 Cal-Santa Barbara, TBS

9:20 p.m.: No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Michigan State, TBS

Tickets: $216 for six games, which include the two sessions Thursday and one session Saturday. Available through sptimes.forum.com, NCAA.com/tickets or ticketmaster.com.

UCLA, Michigan State to wage matchup of big men in NCAA Tournament 03/15/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 12:03am]

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