And it could get even better. After knocking out Duke and Kentucky this weekend, Michigan State next plays North Carolina, giving the Spartans the chance to steamroll three of the most prestigious programs in the land.
“We had plenty of potholes and valleys — even black holes — during this journey,” MSU senior Chris Hill said. “We have been through it all, but here, at the end of the day, we are still standing.”
The young Wildcats were supposedly a year away from greatness. While they’ll be expected to go even farther next year, that’s too late for their best player, Chuck Hayes, the lone senior lost from the top of their deep rotation.
Hayes, who played for Izzo on the U.S. Pan Am team two years ago, hugged MSU seniors Torbert, Hill and Alan Anderson, then shook hands with Izzo before taking a seat on his bench with a few seconds left. He began crying and didn’t stop until the start of a news conference.
“You figure if you give everything you have, you get what you want. But sometimes, you don’t,” said Hayes, who ends his career tied for the most consecutive starts in school history yet never got past the regional finals.
Since winning the championship in 1998, Smith’s first year in Lexington, Kentucky is 0-for-3 in the round of eight. The Spartans also eliminated them in ’99. This loss also deprived the Bluegrass state of having two teams in the Final Four; only Louisville will be there now.
Instead, there’s the chance for a title-game matchup between a different set of regional rivals: Michigan State and Illinois, the only team that finished ahead of the Spartans in the Big Ten this season.
Michigan State was led by sophomore Shannon Brown, whose 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting with five 3-pointers sends him to a Final Four reunion with high school teammate Dee Brown of the Fighting Illini. They’ll be the duo with dangling corn rows and headbands; Shannon will be the one without the orange mouthpiece.
Maurice Ager added 21 points for the Spartans, while Paul Davis had 15 and 11 rebounds.
Randolph Morris led Kentucky with 20 points and Hayes had 16 points and five rebounds. Sparks had 15, all on 3-pointers; the Wildcats had been 19-0 when he made at least two 3s.
Kentucky got a scare in the final minute of regulation when Ramel Bradley collided with Anderson and went down hard, needing help to get to the locker room. He returned, with a huge bandage on his chin, just before the start of overtime, drawing a big cheer from the crowd.
Notes: Only once had two regional finals gone to overtime, in 1992. ... Fifth-year senior Tim Bograkos is the only player left from MSU’s last Final Four team. ... Kentucky had been 2-0 in NCAA tournament games in Texas, using both as springboards to national championships.
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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