PORTLAND, Ore. — Tom Izzo wasn't pleased with much about No. 4 Michigan State's offensive performance, except for Cassius Winston.
Winston scored 12 of his career-high 28 points during a 4-minute span late in the second half to help the Spartans pull away for a 77-57 victory over Connecticut on Friday night to reach the championship game of the PK80 Invitational.
Winston was sensational in the closing minutes as the Spartans advanced to a matchup with No. 9 North Carolina in the "Victory Bracket" title game on Sunday. Winston was responsible for 14 of the 16 points during the spurt where Michigan State hit eight straight shots and took a 14-point lead. Winston started the run with a 3-pointer and scored on pull-up jumpers and driving layups as the Spartans finally shook the Huskies.
And while Izzo praised how well Michigan State played defensively against UConn, he was less than satisfied with the offensive execution outside of Winston.
"I think I'll be pleased with the win, pleased with the progress we're making defensively, pleased with the progress we're making with our turnovers and figure that I, the head coach, has to do a better job getting us in an offense and getting us moving," Izzo said.
Winston was 12-of-15 shooting and for the second straight game the Spartans (4-1) got a big contribution from an unexpected source to help make up for star Miles Bridges being limited. Michigan State made 10 straight shots — a run started by a 3-pointer from Winston — until Joshua Langford missed with 2:15 remaining.
Michigan State had a seven-point lead before Winston's 3-pointer to start the run. The Spartans led by 18 when Langford finally missed.
"It's the best I felt in a little while. I had that confidence that things would fall and everything was happening. I felt really good out there," Winston said. "It's crazy. There's nothing like that. You feel like everything you throw up could go in."
Jalen Adams led UConn (4-1) with 22 points and Terry Larrier added 18. The Huskies struggled to get clean looks against Michigan State's smothering defense that held UConn to 35 percent shooting.
"At the end of the day that's a really good team and we have to learn from that," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "They definitely took it to us in the second half and we have to learn how to bounce back."
Jaren Jackson Jr. added 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Nick Ward had 11 points as the Spartans outscored UConn 40-14 in the paint.
Michigan State pulled away with Bridges not very involved in the outcome. The preseason All-America returned after sitting out Thursday's tournament opener against DePaul with a sprained left ankle suffered last Sunday. Izzo said Bridges was close to playing against the Blue Demons, but the extra day of rest would help.
Bridges didn't start for the Spartans but subbed in with 16:09 left in the first half. He played in just brief spurts in the first half, finishing with only 5 minutes because of foul trouble, but was on the court when the second half began. He finished with six points and eight rebounds in 17 minutes despite his movement still appearing limited because of the ankle.
"I think that was a good step for Miles. Get him some rest tomorrow," Izzo said.
The next two games for Michigan State will provide quite the challenge. The Spartans will face North Carolina on Sunday then host Maui Invitational champion Notre Dame next Thursday.
"I just don't know where we are quite yet with Miles. He's going to be fine but he's not going to be Miles that he was, yet. It is a good way to measure our team because right now I'm not measuring real high offensively," Izzo said.
UConn: The Huskies simply didn't have any interior presence against the Spartans. UConn's starting forwards — Tyler Polley and David Onuorah — combined to be held scoreless, although Polley played just 8 minutes.
Michigan State: Winston's previous career-high was 21 points against Northeastern last season. He has scored in double figures in every game this season except the Spartans only loss to Duke. He had 11 assists in that game.
UConn: The Huskies will take on Arkansas on Sunday.
Michigan State: The Spartans will face No. 9 North Carolina on Sunday night.