March Madness: Michigan State hopes Bridges attacks defense in NCAA Tournament
DETROIT – Miles Bridges can soar for slams, dribble to set up shots and make 3-pointers from all angles.
He can also drift, defer and drive his coach crazy.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has been privately and publicly prodding Bridges to do more with the ball, going as far as saying he needs to be more of a jerk on the court and more selfish.
“As we keep saying to him all year long, ‘Just be more aggressive,’” Izzo said Tuesday .
Bridges, though, pushes back at times.
“I can’t do it without my teammates,” he said softly.
The third-seeded Spartans will need Bridges to play like a star at times in the NCAA Tournament to improve their chances of chasing the school’s third national championship. His first opportunity is Friday night against 14th-seeded Bucknell in Detroit. And the 6-foot-7 forward knows it.
“I definitely don’t want to go home after all the work we put in,” Bridges said. “I’m going to have to take over games.”
Bridges didn’t take his first opportunity to make millions in the NBA after his freshman season, choosing to chase a priceless championship in college.
“This is the top opportunity that I wanted when I came back,” he said. “I wanted to win a national championship. Now that it’s here, I’m just going to have to play. I can’t talk anymore. I have to go out there and win it.”
When Bridges scores a few more points than his average, the Spartans win.
He scored 20 points 11 times this season, and helped his team win each of those games as part of the school-record 28 victories in the regular season.
The All-Big Ten and preseason All-America player leads the team with nearly 17 points per game, ranks second with almost seven rebounds and is third with just under three assists. He led the Spartans to their first Big Ten outright championship since 2009 as one of four players in the nation with his averages in points, rebounds and assists along with almost one block per game.
Bridges averaged 20 points and eight-plus rebounds in two NCAA Tournament games last year on a team without much experience, depth or size that beat Miami by 20 points and lost to Kansas by 20.
Less than a month later, Bridges did what few potential lottery picks do and stayed in college.
“I got some unfinished business here,” Bridges said last year at the foot of the school’s Sparty statue. “I want to stay .”
The signature moment of this season, so far at least, was making a game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds against Purdue.
“I just wanted to make memories with my teammates and that’s what I’ve done this year,” he said.
The low point for Bridges was being briefly ineligible, two days before the final game of the regular season at Wisconsin. Earlier that week, Yahoo! Sports published expense reports listing a $70 lunch with Bridges’ parents and a $400 cash advance to his mother. The school denied the allegations in the report, but later announced its compliance office discovered an NCAA violation because Bridges’ family had dinner with an agent last winter without his knowledge. That finding made the sophomore star ineligible for about a day before the NCAA reinstated him. Bridges had to donate $40 to a charity of his choice as a condition of the reinstatement process.
“No great story comes without trials and tribulations,” Bridges said.
Bridges and his teammates had a chance to clear their minds and relax their bodies last week, idling between the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. They went to see “Hamilton” in Chicago, practiced at the Bulls’ facility and saw the NBA team play.
“Everybody, like our seniors, starts thinking the end is near so you have to deal with all those things,” Izzo said. “In Miles’ case, who knows when the end will be? But I think he’s handled everything pretty well.”
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