Happy homecoming

Spartans stun Cardinals, earn a trip to nearby Detroit for Final Four

Midwest Regional Final Michigan State 64, Louisville 52

Ncaa Tournament

March 30, 2009|By Shannon Ryan | Shannon Ryan,Chicago Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS -On one half of the court, Michigan State's Travis Walton strayed from his teammates' embraces to an isolated area. He crouched while clasping a Final Four cap and stared at the ceiling, saying a prayer while wearing a look of disbelief.

In another corner, Louisville's Terrence Williams appeared just as stunned, wandering along the baseline searching for answers and avoiding the post-game handshake line.

Neither player seemed to grasp what had happened after second seed Michigan State upset top seed Louisville, 64-52, Sunday in the Midwest Regional final. The Spartans earned a trip to the Final Four next weekend in front of a hometown crowd at Ford Field in Detroit.

"I was thanking God," Walton said. "I woke up at 7 this morning and prayed and prayed and prayed. He delivered for us. Like I said, we believe in each other."

The Spartans return to the Final Four to play Connecticut, another top-seeded Big East team, for the first time since 2005 and their fifth Final Four in 11 years.

The Spartans protected and prolonged coach Tom Izzo's record of earning a Final Four appearance for every senior to play under him.

"Pressure is what Michigan State is all about," said Walton, a senior who finished with eight points. "Coach can go on the road anywhere and recruit the No. 1 player in the nation and say: 'I know you watched the Final Four on TV. I know you dream about going there. If you come to Michigan State University, we're going to get you into a great academic arena, and we're going to get you to a Final Four.' "

Izzo stayed up late Saturday to watch extra Louisville game film and tweaked his game plan to help the Spartans attack the middle.

"The way they extended [their zone], there were some openings in there," Izzo said. "We thought if we get the ball moving a little bit because it's hard to pass in against [their length and athleticism], we'd have some kickouts that were a little better."

After a few instances of Izzo yelling at Goran Suton, the 6-foot-10 center eventually grasped his role. He scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half, often off feeds from point guard Kalin Lucas, to go with 10 rebounds, four assists and a block.

"Once he settled down, he wasn't good - he was awesome," Izzo said.

Earl Clark scored 19 points for Louisville, but go-to guy Williams shot just 1-for-7 for five points, nearly eight below his average.

"They were quicker than us," Williams said. "Their defense was more physical, and we really couldn't turn them over like we wanted."

Louisville coach Rick Pitino said the Cardinals had fallen out of practice playing against man-to-man teams, not having faced one in their previous seven games.

"That man-to-man gave us trouble because our inside attack wasn't there," Pitino said.

After playing in front of 36,084 fans - Louisville red outnumbered Spartan green about 5-to-1 - the Spartans are thrilled to be heading back to Michigan.

"It was just as big a win as our school has had because we're going to Detroit," Izzo said. "That's been a dream and a goal since the day they announced where the Final Four was in 2009."

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