Monday, March 22, 1999


March magic runs out for Wildcats

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Desmond Allison and Heshimu Evans watch Michigan State seal its victory in the final seconds.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        ST. LOUIS — Kentucky runs off the court. It just does. Win, lose, rain, shine, the Wildcats have always jogged back to their locker room. But not Sunday. This was the long walk of shock.

        This was Wayne Turner gritting his teeth so not to cry, Scott Padgett staring at his shoelaces. Slow motion, single file. Back to mortality.

        “It was strange,” sophomore Saul Smith said. “It was a new experience. It wasn't anything I ever want to feel again.”

        It ended in fits and spurts, with the Wildcats making the familiar clutch shots but another team making more. Michigan State stole the formula: the huge comeback, the suffocating defense, the clinching free throws. The 73-66 victory.

        The Final Four.

        “Michigan State is a team of destiny,” UK coach Tubby Smith said. “The plays they made today were the plays we were making last year in the tournament.”

        And so the Golden Era ends. UK's run of three straight Final Fours, the lone such stretch in school history, dies seven points shy of a fourth trip.

        Cumulative totals the past four seasons: 132-20, including 21-2 in the NCAA Tournament. Two national championships.

        And Sunday, one stunning heartache.

        “It's devastating,” UK junior Jamaal Magloire said. “All I've known is Final Fours. We played intense for 40 minutes. We poured our hearts out on the court.”

        Said freshman Desmond Allison: “We thought no one worked harder than us, but I guess they did. They wanted it more than us, and they outworked us.”

        The Spartans (33-4), playing before a near-UK home crowd in the Trans World Dome, nonetheless drove home wearing the Midwest Region championship nets. They have won 22 straight games, posted the winningest season in Big 10 history, and will make their first Final Four appearance in 20 years Saturday when they face top-ranked Duke in St. Petersburg, Fla.

        “I look at our team this year and bouncing back from a 17-4 deficit (Sunday), and to do that against a team like that showed the character we have,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “This is as good a day as we've had at Michigan State in a long time.”

        In the other locker room, it was a night to find perspective. After the initial tears, pride in a 28-9 season slowly leaked out.

        The Wildcats had won six straight postseason games, including a rousing rally last week against Kansas, and one defeat wouldn't dim all the achievements.

        “We have a lot to be proud of,” Tubby Smith said. “This team reached its potential. Even though we had some roadblocks, we came an extremely long way.”

        Said sophomore Michael Bradley: “We got to the Great Eight, and other teams would kill to be in it. We can't hang our heads. It was another great season.”

        UK nearly won Sunday's game with a quick haymaker. Senior forward Heshimu Evans scored 12 points the first 10 minutes as the Wildcats vaulted to leads of 9-2 and 17-4.

        The Spartans had been outrebounded 18-9 in the first 18 minutes, but would hold a 24-11 rebounding edge thereafter. They were every bit as athletic, and perhaps a bit faster.

        Clawing back within one at halftime, thanks to a Mateen Cleaves three-pointer at the buzzer, Michigan State carried that momentum into a see-saw second half. With 15:45 left in the game, Cleaves buried a 15-footer for his team's first lead, 43-42, but UK surged back for a 50-46 lead.

        The lead was still 54-51 with 8:01 left when the Spartans mounted a huge 9-0 run, capped by a Cleaves three-pointer and a Morris Peterson jumper. With 4:54 left, UK trailed 60-54.

        “They grinded their way back in the game,” Saul Smith said. “We had a couple of defensive breakdowns, and they took control.”

        The difference was defense. UK had made 51.7 percent of its first-half shots, but the Spartans held it to 37.5 after halftime. Meanwhile, MSU shot 52 percent after intermission.

        UK's greatest late-game weapon had been Turner's dribble penetration, but Cleaves cut him off short of the basket nearly every time. Turner had a big 10-foot bank shot with 3:23 left, but he missed such a shot two possessions later.

        He would later miss two three-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

        “They did a good job getting back on their transition defense,” he said. “I couldn't find that hole to get to the basket.”

        UK also struggled with Padgett and Evans in foul trouble much of the second half. Evans was shut out the second half, and Padgett had only four points until the final two minutes.

        “We made some dumb plays, some stupid fouls, but we didn't give up,” Evans said.

        MSU's lead was seven points with 31.1 seconds left when Padgett made a long three-pointer. Peterson made both ends of a one-and-one bonus, but Padgett made another three with 18.8 seconds left: 69-66.

        Peterson, though, again made both ends of the one-and-one. He made another two free throws with five seconds left to seal it.

        “Scott made the clutch shots we needed, but I have to credit Peterson,” Evans said. “He didn't give us the chance to come back.”

        Padgett, Turner and Evans closed their college careers.

        “This is tough,” Padgett said. “I knew in my head that's the last time I'd be on a college basketball game.”

It's simple: Spartans were better team Tim Sullivan column
Turner's presents won't include a ring
Cleaves' pain felt by UK

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Evans           20  5-10   0-0   4-6  1  4   12
Padgett         30   3-8   3-5   1-3  2  4   11
Bradley         12   2-4   0-0   2-4  0  0    4
Turner          35   2-8   1-2   1-2  8  1    5
Allison         23   3-8   1-1   1-2  2  1    7
Smith           13   0-1   0-0   0-1  0  1    0
Prince          24   3-3   4-4   1-2  1  2   12
Hogan            6   1-2   0-0   1-3  1  0    2
Camara          11   2-4   0-0   0-0  0  0    4
Magloire        26   3-5   3-4   0-1  0  3    9
TOTALS         200 24-53 12-16 11-24 15 16   66

Percentages: FG-.453, FT-.750. 3-Point Goals: 6-16, .375 (Evans 2-2, Padgett 2-6, Turner 0-3, Allison 0-2, Smith 0-1, Prince 2-2). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 7 (Magloire 3, Padgett 2, Allison, Prince). Turnovers: 9 (Padgett 2, Turner 2, Allison, Bradley, Evans, Magloire, Smith). Steals: 5 (Allison, Bradley, Magloire, Smith, Turner).

MICHIGAN ST (73) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp A Smith 33 1-2 2-2 1-7 0 2 4 Hutson 29 6-10 2-4 2-5 1 3 14 Klein 18 1-6 0-0 1-1 0 3 3 Cleaves 37 4-11 0-0 0-4 11 0 10 Bell 27 3-5 0-0 1-3 2 3 7 Kelley 2 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 2 Davis 3 0-0 0-0 0-0 2 0 0 Peterson 33 6-13 7-8 9-10 1 3 19 Granger 18 4-5 3-3 1-2 0 2 14 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 26-53 14-17 15-32 17 16 73 _______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.491, FT-.824. 3-Point Goals: 7-17, .412 (Klein 1-5, Cleaves 2-5, Bell 1-2, Peterson 0-2, Granger 3-3). Team rebounds: 1. Blocked shots: None. Turnovers: 11 (Cleaves 3, Granger 2, Hutson 2, A Smith, Bell, Klein, Peterson). Steals: 4 (A Smith 2, Bell 2). __________________________________ Kentucky 36 30 - 66 Michigan St 35 38 - 73 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 42,519. Officials: Jim Burr, Robert Donato, Reggie Greenwood.