In their defense
Spartans turn tables to reach title game
Posted: Sunday April 02, 2000 10:08 AM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Michigan State would have been just as good in the days before dazzling dunks and the shot clock.
The Spartans won a Final Four game that could have been played in another era, beating Big Ten rival Wisconsin for the fourth time this season and moving within one victory of their first national title since 1979.
An inspired Morris Peterson provided most of the offense and Michigan State countered Wisconsin's in-your-face defense and slowdown offense for a bruising 53-41 victory Saturday night.
"I think they may be the best defensive team in the country," said Jon Bryant, who scored only two points for Wisconsin. "Everyone talks about their offense, and they forget about the defense. But they can play some good defense. They kept proving it against us."
Michigan State (31-7), which has been focused on a title since losing to Duke in the national semifinals a year ago, advanced to Monday night's championship against the winner of the North Carolina-Florida game.
"We've got one more shining moment," said star point guard Mateen Cleaves, who returned for his senior season for a chance to win a championship.
Michigan State failed to score a field goal for the final 11:42 of the first half. It didn't matter in a game dominated by picks and bricks -- appropriate in the home of the Brickyard.
The Spartans led only 19-17 at the half, falling short of the score posted in the 1941 title game when Wisconsin was up 21-17 over Washington State en route to the Badgers' only national championship.
But Michigan State matched every elbow and forearm thrown by the Badgers (22-14), limiting them to a single basket through the first 7:24 of the second half. Meantime, Peterson scored 10 points during a 13-2 spurt that pushed the lead to 32-19.
Against a team of limited offensive means like Wisconsin, a 13-point lead was as good as 30.
"There's always somebody on you with a hand in your face," Bryant said. "You get a split-second to get a shot up and you're not always getting a good look at it."
Michigan State, the only top seed to reach the Final Four, won its lone national title 21 years ago with Magic Johnson at point guard, beating Indiana State and Larry Bird in the final.
"You have to give credit to Pete," Cleaves said. "When he is hitting his shots, we just get out of the way."
Peterson scored 20 points just two days after attending his grandmother's funeral. He said Friday that she would have the best seat at the RCA Dome, and he put on quite a show in her honor.
"It will be real special for us taking court one more time," Peterson said. "Hopefully, we will make something happen."
The Badgers shot only 35 percent (15-of-43) and had just one player in double figures, Roy Boone with 18 points. Most of those came in the final minutes when the outcome was already decided.
A week ago, Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett said his team had not figured out a way to score against Michigan State. The Badgers still haven't and were held to the lowest point total of any Final Four team since the shot clock was introduced in 1986.
Bryant, the MVP of the West Regional after averaging 16.8 points and shooting 50 percent from the field, was 1-of-5 from the field. The Spartans made it difficult for him to even get off a shot -- much less make it.
"We just didn't get it done," Bennett said. "They're better than us, and we knew that."
The Badgers, one of two No. 8 seeds at Indy, finished a remarkable run after getting into the tournament from the bubble. They knocked out top-seeded Arizona in the second round of the West Regional, then made it to Indy by defeating Purdue in another All-Big Ten matchup.
But Wisconsin, the sixth-place team in the Big Ten, wasn't quick enough or athletic enough to handle the Spartans. Michigan State won both regular-season meetings and defeated the Badgers again in the conference tournament.
Michigan State is capable of playing defense with the stingiest of teams, and it simply had too many offensive weapons for the Badgers, who lost the four games between the teams by an average of nearly 11 points.
"We were OK at halftime, but Peterson got it going and we just never finished," Bennett said. "I thanked (the players) for this great run and apologized to them for all the goofy things I say to them."
Michigan State dominated the boards, outrebounding Wisconsin 42-20 in a virtual replay of their first meeting this season. That choked off one of the Badgers' prime objectives for creating offensive chances.
The Spartans had 14 offensive rebounds and limited Wisconsin to only two. Andre Hutson led with 10 rebounds, Charlie Bell had eight, Peterson and A.J. Granger seven apiece.
"They killed us on the boards," said 6-foot-8 Wisconsin forward Andy Kowske, who failed to grab a rebound during his 20 minutes on the court.
Michigan State shot 35 percent (16-of-46) as well and overcame a subpar game by Cleaves. He scored 11 points -- but nine of those came on free throws. He was 1-of-7 shooting.
Peterson, meanwhile, was 7-of-15, including Michigan State's only two baskets from outside the 3-point arc.
"It seemed like every time we started to make a run and get
back in the game," Wisconsin's Mark Vershaw said, "Peterson came
up with the big basket."