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Trojans' plan goes awry because of Travis Walton

USC BASKETBALL

Michigan State's senior guard, averaging 4.9 points a game, scores a career-high 18 points, taking advantage of a defense that dared him to shoot.

March 23, 2009|Chris Dufresne

MINNEAPOLIS — You could understand a Walton beating USC in 1972, but not on a Sunday this year in Minneapolis.

Bill, yes.

Travis, no.

Michigan State knocked USC back to Los Angeles and out of the NCAA tournament, 74-69, using a secret weapon not even Coach Tom Izzo knew the Spartans had.

"I was shocked that he made some of those shots," he said.

Michigan State is moving on to a Midwest Regional semifinal this week in Indianapolis and USC is going home because senior guard Travis Walton, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year, decided to get offensive against the Trojans.

Walton, who averaged 4.9 points a game this season, scored a team-high and career-high 18.

Walton, a 41% shooter, decided this was the day he would make eight of 13 shots.

It was almost unfathomable.

USC Coach Tim Floyd said his staff spent 36 hours studying film between Friday's win over Boston College and Sunday's game and not once did anyone utter the line: "Don't let Walton beat us with a jumper."

The game plan was to give Walton any 17-foot shot he wanted. The game plan was to sag a defender back in the lane to help out on the team of Clydesdales that Michigan State runs in and out of the game.

It wasn't a good sign when Michigan State won the opening tip and Walton sank his first jumper nine seconds into the game.

Probably just luck.

Walton then missed two of his next three and Floyd was thinking, this is more like it.

Only it wasn't.

Point guard Kalin Lucas gets credit for kicking the ball to Walton and telling one of the team's worst shooters to keep cranking.

"Time after time, he put the ball in my hands in the right place," Walton said of Lucas.

Walton got hot at the right time, for all the right reasons. He's a senior who desperately craves a Final Four appearance. Every player who has played four years for Izzo has made it that far, and Walton didn't want to break the streak.

"There are certain times when guys step up and do heroic things," Izzo said of Walton's performance. "Travis probably wants to keep playing more than anybody."

Izzo compared it to the opening-round performance of Memphis guard Roburt Sallie, with his 4.5 scoring average, making 10 three-point shots in a tough win against Cal State Northridge.

"If he doesn't hit those, they lose," Izzo said.

Memphis is in the Sweet 16 too.

In Walton's last five games entering Sunday's, he scored three, two, four, two and zero points.

That's right. Walton missed all three shots in Friday's first-round win over Robert Morris.

Sunday, when it counted, Walton made the jumpers that gave Michigan State leads of 69-67 and 71-69.

Floyd thought he had it figured out.

"Make them a jump-shooting team," Floyd said.

Travis Walton . . . who knew?

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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