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Kentucky Stops at the State Line

Spartans prevail, 94-88, in double overtime after the Wildcats tie it at the end of regulation on a three-point basket that prompts a long review.

March 28, 2005|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

AUSTIN, Texas — Add to the list of remarkable NCAA tournament visages a three-point line and Patrick Sparks' right shoe.

Add his three-point shot that bounced five times on the rim before bouncing in.

And Sparks running over and shouting something unprintable in the direction of CBS analyst Billy Packer.

And a seven-minute delay in which three referees hemmed and hawed before awarding Kentucky five minutes of bluegrass bonus time.

Add Kentucky having 25.5 seconds and the ball at the end of the first overtime and not getting off a shot.

And a Michigan State senior making four adrenaline-packed free throws under the glare of klieg lights.

Add to the list of amazing tournament memories Michigan State's 94-88, double-overtime win over Kentucky in Sunday's Austin Regional final in the Frank Erwin Center.

A crowd of 16,239 sweated it out.

"It seemed like an all-timer to me, because I was in the middle of it," ashen-faced Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said. "The game was second to none."

Michigan State (26-6) moves on to the Final Four to face North Carolina, an improbable advancement for a fifth-seeded team whose coach took a hammer to the game tapes after the Spartans sputtered out of the Big Ten Conference tournament with a loss to Iowa.

But what about this tournament has not been improbable?

Michigan State survived Old Dominion, Vermont and Duke to get to Kentucky, a seven-time NCAA champion.

Michigan State senior forward Alan Anderson made four free throws in the last 12.2 seconds of the second overtime to cinch the win.

But before the very end, though, there was the hairy end.

Had it lost, Michigan State would have been the third team over the weekend to exit the tournament screaming.

On Saturday, West Virginia lost a 20-point lead to Louisville and Arizona blew a 15-point lead to Illinois in the final minutes.

Michigan State held an eight-point lead with 7:20 left and a six-point lead with two minutes left, but Flint-frittered it away.

Kentucky (28-6) had cut the lead to 75-72 with 12.6 seconds left in regulation when Sparks missed a three-point shot, the ball going to Kelenna Azubuike, who missed a shot, the ball bouncing back to Sparks who, with defender Kelvin Torbert in his face, let fly a buzzer-beater shot that looked like a lottery ball as it danced around the rim.

"It seemed like that shot hung on the rim forever," Izzo said. "I was counting the seconds it was up there wiggling around."

The question: Was it the three-point shot that tied the score or a two-pointer that gave Michigan State its pass to St. Louis?

"It was crazy," said Sparks. "It was such a swing of emotion from being down and out and hitting a shot like that."

The Kentucky section, led by the pom-pom chants of actress Ashley Judd, chanted "Three! Three! Three!"

Izzo told his team to assume the shot was going to count.

The game officials huddled at the scorer's table to get a definitive look from television replay.

Problem was there wasn't a definitive look.

Referee James Burr ruled the shot a three-point basket on the court but it was razor close -- Sparks' white shoe sole pressed against white three-point paint.

Burr reviewed the play multiple times from multiple angles, knowing he held a viewing audience captive.

"I felt the play was so important in deciding a college basketball game that was as great as that was that I asked the guy in the [TV] truck to blow it up for me," Burr said afterward. "I don't know how many angles he had, but he showed me every single angle he possibly could."

Television producers finally provided for Burr the definitive image of Big Foot.

"In my humble opinion," Burr said, "it showed that the kid was behind the line ... "

It was on to overtime.

Kentucky had the momentum and jumped to a quick four-point lead, but couldn't complete the close out.

With the score tied, 81-81, the Wildcats had the ball with 25.5 seconds left in the first overtime. Point guard Rajon Rondo ran the clock down to 10 seconds, pressed the action and kicked the ball to Azubuike, who inexplicably dribbled from one end of the court and let the clock expire.

"You'd hope he'd jump and shoot it and give it a chance," Coach Tubby Smith said.

Said Azubuike: "I probably should have shot it right when I got it."

The shot Kentucky didn't take will be rehashed in Lexington for years.

Michigan State never trailed in the second overtime. Three free throws gave the Spartans a three-point lead, which was extended to five points with 2:12 left when center Paul Davis followed an Anderson miss with a resounding dunk.

Chuck Hayes' up-and-under move and basket with 29 seconds left cut the lead to 88-86, but Kentucky put the wrong guy at the free-throw line.

Anderson calmly -- or so it seemed -- made two free throws with 12 seconds left to extend the lead to four and, after Rondo countered with a quick basket, Kentucky fouled Anderson with seven seconds left and he made two more free throws.

And that was the end of it -- the game being handed over to hoops history.

Shannon Brown led Michigan State with 24 points, making five of six three-pointers. Randolf Morris led Kentucky with 20 points.

Sparks brushed past the Spartan mascot on his way off the court. Hayes, a senior who knew he would never lead Kentucky to the promised land, exchanged a warm handshake with Izzo.

After one of the best college games anyone had seen -- at least since Saturday -- Michigan State walked off a winner.

And the Wildcats returned to their Kentucky homes.

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