State of belief
Izzo: Spartans could pull off 'no bigger upset'
Posted: Monday March 22, 1999 11:43 PM
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Duke has a great coach, a great basketball program, a great team. And Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says "they are pretty much unbeatable."
But Izzo sure isn't conceding Saturday's semifinal game, especially after his gritty Spartans' come-from-behind victory Sunday against Kentucky.
"There's no bigger upset than Michigan State beating Duke," Izzo said. "All I have to do is make sure our kids understand that. And knowing these players and knowing their toughness, I'm sure we're not going in there scared.
"Nervous, maybe. Scared, no."
Duke (36-1) and Michigan State (33-4), the top two teams in the final AP poll, met earlier this season, with the Blue Devils winning 73-67 in the Great Eight tournament. Saturday's game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., has a little more at stake with the winner taking on either Ohio State or Connecticut for the national championship.
Izzo said Michigan State matches up with Duke somewhat, at least in size. And even though Duke has been the dominant team this season, the Michigan State coach has hopes for a big upset.
"It's no doubt we're going to be an underdog, but we've been the underdog before," he said. "I'm really looking forward to it; I really am. I'm not looking forward to it in a cocky way, thinking that hey, we're just going to go out and beat Duke, but in a confident way where I think we can do some things."
If the Spartans want some inspiration, they and their fans don't have to look further than Sunday's game, in which Michigan State rebounded from an early 13-point deficit to beat Kentucky 73-66.
"Remember: A slow start and a good ending is a lot better than a fast start and a bad ending," Izzo said.
Michigan State may pick up an edge from happy Spartan fans. After Sunday's victory, the team returned to Lansing around midnight to find about 300 fans crowding the airport, and Izzo could sense the enthusiasm.
"Yesterday was such an emotional event ... seeing all those people out there at 12:30 at night," he said. "I think the campus is electric right now; people are caught up in the spirit of it.
"Not only the students but this entire community has kind of taken a grasp of this team."
Part of those caught up in the green-and-white spirit are former Spartan players and coaches, many of whom have shown up to root on this year's team.
Watching from the stands in St. Louis on Sunday, among others, were Magic Johnson and former coach Jud Heathcote, who teamed to lead the Spartans to the NCAA title in 1979.
"It was great he took the time to come back," Izzo said of Heathcote. And, he said, Johnson "thinks we can win it all.""I have a lot of faith in what he thinks, so I'll just go with that," Izzo added.
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