AUSTIN, Texas (ESPN.com news services) -- Tom Izzo wasn't going to wait. He figured
Kentucky's rim-dancing 3-pointer would be ruled a basket, so he
grabbed his clipboard and started getting Michigan State ready for
"Now let's beat them a second time," he barked into the
Deflated at first, the Spartans recovered in time to heed the
With Kelvin Torbert smiling at his teammates and screaming
"Let's go!", the Spartans denied the Wildcats from even getting
off a potential winning shot at the end of overtime, then coolly
took care of things in a second OT, pulling out a 94-88 victory
Sunday to send the Spartans into the Final Four.
"We survived," Izzo said.
It was a breathtaking finish to perhaps the most astonishing
regional finals weekend the NCAA Tournament has ever seen. After
Louisville and Illinois needed overtime to secure their spots in
St. Louis on Saturday and North Carolina advanced in a squeaker
over Wisconsin earlier Sunday, this game had several last acts.
"It will go down in history as a great college basketball
game," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "It hurts right now, but
some of our guys will appreciate it later on."
The second-seeded Wildcats (28-6) dug out of an eight-point hole
with 5:25 left, mainly with 3-pointers, then missed a pair of 3s
that could've tied it at the end of regulation -- only to have the
ball wind up in the hands of outside ace Patrick Sparks. He let it
go with a second to spare, then saw the ball bounce four times on
the rim before dropping.
Officials needed more than five minutes to make sure his right
tiptoe was behind the arc. Referee James Burr finally decided it
was after asking CBS to zoom in on Sparks' feet.
Rejuvenated, Kentucky scored the next four points, but couldn't
After fifth-seeded Michigan State (26-6) tied it with 1:03 left,
the Wildcats had the ball the rest of the way, yet managed just one
shot -- a bad one -- and none after Torbert's rallying cry with 20
"As soon as I got it, I should've shot it," said Kelenna
Azubuike, who had both the ugly miss and was stuck holding the ball
when time ran out.
Torbert opened the second overtime with a free throw, and
Michigan State never trailed again. The Spartans made 11 straight
foul shots in the second overtime, then let out all sorts of
The relief went beyond the obvious, that they're joining Big Ten
rival Illinois with a chance to win it all. For the upperclassmen,
especially the seniors, this victory emphatically shed their label
as soft, weak underachievers, and guaranteed them of continuing the
Final Four tradition begun by predecessors from 1999-2001.
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. Next Saturday's game will start 40 minutes after Louisville takes on Illinois at 6:07 p.m. ET on CBS.
"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
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
"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
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.
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. School officials told ESPN that Bradley sustained a concussion on the play.
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
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.