Posted: Monday April 4, 2005 7:22PM; Updated: Monday April 4, 2005 7:22PM
Michigan State's drive to Tuesday's title game has been deep-rooted in teamwork.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Michigan State will take its gang of five over a couple of blue-chip players any day.
After all, this season has proven the Spartans can win in unconventional ways -- without All-Americans, without dominant inside players, even beating the nation's most established women's programs by rallying from seemingly impossible deficits.
At Michigan State, it's all about teamwork.
"You see teams with one or two All-Americans and that team loses," Kristin Haynie said. "That's what makes this team great. If someone has a bad game, someone else can step up."
Adhering to coach Joanne P.McCallie's deep-rooted philosophy is what has led the Spartans out of their mediocre past and onto the brink of their first national title. Michigan State (33-3) faces Baylor on Tuesday night in a matchup of first-time finalists.
As usual, the Spartans have reached the title game with a slightly different script.
While Baylor (32-3) relies primarily on its All-America tandem of Sophia Young and Steffanie Blackmon, Michigan State beats opponents with balance.
Four starters average double figures although none scores more than 15 points per game. Two other players are scoring nearly eight points per game. It's Basketball 101 at East Lansing, Mich.
"We're not a bunch of all-stars," center Kelli Roehrig said. "But we have so many great players, I think we just complement each other so well."
McCallie seemingly has all the pieces in place:
Haynie is the fleet point guard and the school's career record-holder for steals (341). She was named most outstanding player of the Kansas City Region and the Big Ten tournament, and she averages 10.6 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Guard Lindsay Bowen, a junior, is Michigan State's career leader with 24 3-pointers. She scores 13.6 points and delivered the outlet pass Sunday that sealed the Spartans 68-64 semifinal victory over Tennessee.
Forward Liz Shimek ranks 10th in Spartans history in scoring, averages 15.0 points and 9.2 rebounds.
Roehrig provides inside power and has teamed with Haynie to win more games (91) than any other senior class. Roehrig averages 13.5 points and 7.3 rebounds, and scored the go-ahead basket with 35 seconds left against Tennessee.
While sophomore guard Victoria Lucas-Perry is the fifth wheel, scoring just 7.4 points, it was her seven straight points that saved the Spartans in their closing rally against Tennessee.
"You can't just focus on one or two players because two or three others will beat you," Bowen said. "That's the beauty of having such a balanced team."
But in an era where individuality is revered, success has helped McCallie make simpler points.
After finishing ninth in the Big Ten in each of her first two seasons at Michigan State, the Spartans improved to fourth in 2002-03 and 2003-04, then shared the regular-season title this season before winning their first conference tournament.
Players believe the key to this year's tournament run began last summer when the Spartans took a team camping trip to Shimek's grandparents' farm in northern Michigan.
"During that 3 1/2-hour ride to her farm, we bonded," Haynie said. "We had a great time, and I think that's what started the chemistry on this team."
When they returned, Michigan State had a new philosophy.
"It put things into perspective and showed us how lucky everyone is on our team," Roehrig said.
Opponents with better players and stronger reputations also appreciated Michigan State's concept. Tennessee coach Pat Summitt praised the Spartans for their composure Sunday night, and Baylor players know they too will be facing a different kind of opponent Tuesday.
"If you scout those players you don't leave a gym and go, wow, they leap out of the gym," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson said. "But you leave a gym and go, I would like to have two players like that on my team. They know how to win."
The Spartans couldn't ask for any better compliment.
"You see, in the guys' games, a lot of guys want to go one-on-one," Bowen said. "In girls' games, it really is team ball -- and this team is willing to do whatever it takes to win."
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.