INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Michigan State again saved its best for the second half.
The Spartans used a stifling defensive performance and moved within one win of accomplishing their preseason goal by advancing to the NCAA Tournament title game with a 53-41 victory over Wisconsin in the national semifinals.
In one of the ugliest Final Four contests in recent memory, both teams struggled mightily to find any offense in the first half, combining for only 36 points. It was the third-lowest scoring first half in Final Four history.
Known for frustrating opponents with a hounding defense, Wisconsin could not rattle the Spartans, who already were more than familiar with their fellow Big Ten Conference school.
Michigan State defeated the Badgers twice in the regular season and again in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament and left little doubt about the result of this contest early in the second half.
Morris Peterson, the Spartans' leading scorer whose grandmother died earlier this week, netted 11 points in a 13-2 run to start the second half and gave the Spartans a commanding 32-19 advantage with 12:57 remaining.
"He was on a mission. He wanted to play well for his grandmother and he made some big plays in the second half," Spartans forward Andre Hutson said.
In getting to the Final Four, Michigan State had to overcome second-half deficits against Syracuse in the "Sweet 16" and Iowa State in the Midwest Region final.
The only No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four and a preseason choice to win the national title, Michigan State (31-7) will face Florida in Monday's championship game.
"To beat them four times, I take my hat off to my players," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I think it took a galant effort, especially the second half. So I'm just pleased and feel fortunate we're moving on because we beat a good team and now our players get a chance of a lifetime." Michigan State is the first Big Ten team to reach the championship game since Michigan lost to North Carolina in 1993.
Wisconsin (22-14) was a surprise entry in the Final Four as a No. 8 seed out of the West Region. The Badgers and North Carolina became the third and fourth eighth seeds to reach the Final Four.
Michigan State actually got off to a hot start from the field, making six of its first 13 shots and grabbing a 16-8 lead with 11:39 left before halftime on a steal and layup by senior Mateen Cleaves.
After that basket, however, the Spartans did not make another in the half, missing the next 11 shots. They shot 25 percent (6-of-24) in the opening 20 minutes.
"We got kind of dysfunctional out there," Cleaves said. "We made a few bad plays in a row and coach told us to slow down. We didn't get anything. We just couldn't get a anything going. We just should've slowed the ball up." Wisconsin was not much better from the floor but closed the half on a 9-2 run to pull within 19-17 at the break. The Badgers shot 29 percent (6-of-21) in the half.
The Badgers were able to hang around despite getting no production from guard Jon Bryant, who averaged 16.8 points in the first four tournament games.
Michigan State used a variety of switches on defense to limit Bryant's scoring chances, and they worked to perfection. He netted his only points on a layup with 5:48 remaining and finished 1-of-5 from the field.
"It was impossible to get open out there," Bryant said. "I couldn't get anything going. They took me out of my game. I would come off screens and there would be another guy there. It was frustrating." Peterson, who led the Spartans in scoring during the season at just under 17 points per game, had only four in the first half. Unlike Bryant, he found his game in the second half and made sure the Spartans would play on Monday night.
Charlie Bell misfired on a 3-pointer to start the second half for the Spartans' 12th consecutive miss, but Peterson put home the rebound, making it 21-17. He capped the 13-2 burst with a jumper, pushing Michigan State's advantage to 13 points.
"I just think it's ... we started playing with a sense of urgency," Peterson said. "We started realizing it could be our last 20 minutes if we didn't pick it up. They got some momentum going to halftime and we wanted to come out aggressive in the second half. The shots started falling and we played better defense." Peterson finished with 20 points and Cleaves and Hutson had 11 apiece for Michigan State, which shot 35 percent (16-of-46) and held a commanding 42-20 rebounding advantage.
"Obviously, Michigan State was the better team out there," Wisconsin forward Andy Kowske said. "They killed us on the boards and that was a big part of the game. I give credit to Michigan State's defense. They play so well, they pressure you, they give you nothing easy and I think that's part of why they play such great defense." A 3-pointer by Kirk Penney pulled the Badgers within 32-22 with 12:36 to play, but that was as close as they got. Mike Chappell had a basket and Peterson a 3-pointer that gave the Spartans a 37-22 cushion with 8:43 left.
"It seemed like every time we started to make a run and get back in the game, Morris Peterson would come up with a big basket," Badgers forward Mark Vershaw said.
Roy Boone scored 18 points to lead Wisconsin, which shot 35 percent (15-of-43).