Sunday, March 21, 1999

Michigan State 73, Kentucky 66




By OWEN CANFIELD
AP Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Michigan State didn't need any Magic to get back to the Final Four. Good, old-fashioned hard work did just fine.

The Spartans, who hadn't looked much like a No. 1 seed in the first three games of the Midwest Regional, showed tremendous poise and heart Sunday in rallying to defeat No. 3 seed Kentucky 73-66.

The victory sends Michigan State to its first Final Four since 1979, when Magic Johnson — who was among the regional-record crowd of 42,519 — led the Spartans to the national title. The loss kept Kentucky, the defending champion, from its fourth straight Final Four.

"It's probably as good a day as we've had at Michigan State in a long, long time," coach Tom Izzo said.

"To battle back against a great, great Kentucky team says a lot about our team."

The Spartans, who twice trailed by 13 early, rallied behind better rebounding, better shooting and better defense.

After starting out 3-of-15 from the floor, the Spartans (33-4) made 23-of-38 the rest of the way to finish at 49 percent. After being outrebounded 15-7 early on, they wound up with a 33-29 advantage.

And Kentucky, which was 8-of-13 early, cooled off considerably after that. Heshimu Evans scored 12 points in the first 10 minutes for Kentucky (28-9), then went scoreless. Scott Padgett, who had scored 19 points per game in the tournament, only had five until making two 3-pointers in the final minute.

"For once, we were the team that got a little too excited about that start and sort of let down a little," Padgett said. "But they kept their poise. They didn't try to get it all back in a hurry. They just came down and played defense and made stops and then went and executed their offense."

The Michigan State offense came from just about everyone, and from just about everywhere. The Spartans made five 3-pointers in the first half — one more than its per-game average. The Spartans made just two in the second half, but both were crucial.

Morris Peterson scored 19 points, including six free throws in the final 30 seconds, and had 10 rebounds. Mateen Cleaves had 11 assists and 10 points. A.J. Granger and Andre Hutson scored 14 each in Michigan State's 22nd straight victory.

As a result, Michigan State will play Duke next Saturday at St. Petersburg, Fla. Connecticut plays Ohio State in the other national semifinal.

"Everybody stepped up in their own way," Izzo said. "There were so many guys that made plays."

It looked early as though Kentucky would be making reservations for Florida. Evans scored nine of the Wildcats' first 13 points and Kentucky controlled the game at both ends in taking leads of 17-4 and 19-6.

"I was trying to tell them there's a long way to go, because you know you're playing against a great team that's going to come back," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "That's easier said than done."

Michigan State used 3-point shooting and improved rebounding to right itself. Granger made all three of his 3-point tries, and he, Jason Klein and Cleaves hit consecutive 3s in the final 1:21 to get within 36-35 at halftime.

Michigan State's first lead, 43-42, didn't come until Cleaves hit a jumper with 15:45 remaining in the game. The Spartans trailed 50-46 with just over 11 minutes to play, then held Kentucky to one field goal in the next six minutes to take a 60-54 lead.

Cleaves had a 3-pointer late in that surge, and a minute later Charlie Bell made one to give the Spartans a 63-56 lead.

The Spartans led by seven twice, the final time 67-60, and Kentucky got no closer than 69-66 on a Padgett 3-pointer with 18.8 seconds to play. Peterson then hit both ends of a one-and-one to seal the victory, and added two more with 5 seconds remaining.

"I wasn't nervous," he said. "A lot of things started going through my mind, like back when I was a kid, realizing this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I just wanted to take advantage of it."

He did, and now he and his teammates are going to the Final Four.

MARCH MADNESS PAGE