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NCAA TOURNAMENT: MIDWEST REGIONAL

Michigan State is coming home to Motown

Surprising Spartans beat top-seeded Louisville, 64-52, to advance to their fifth Final Four in 11 years. And this one's in Detroit, where they'll have a home-court edge.

March 30, 2009|Shannon Ryan

INDIANAPOLIS — On one half of the court, Michigan State's Travis Walton strayed from teammates' embraces to an isolated area. He crouched while clasping a Final Four cap and stared at the ceiling, saying a prayer while wearing a look of disbelief.

In another corner, Louisville's Terrence Williams appeared just as stunned, wandering along the baseline searching for answers and avoiding the postgame handshake line.

Neither player seemed to grasp what had happened after No. 2-seeded Michigan State shocked top-seeded Louisville, 64-52, Sunday in the Midwest Regional final. The Spartans earned a trip to the Final Four next weekend and a home-court edge at Ford Field in Detroit.

"I was thanking God," Walton said. "I woke up at 7 this morning and prayed and prayed and prayed. He delivered for us. Like I said, we believe in each other."

The Spartans are in the Final Four for the fifth time in 11 years and the first time since 2005. They will play Connecticut, another top-seeded Big East team, on Saturday.

Michigan State protected and prolonged Coach Tom Izzo's record of earning a Final Four appearance for one of his players who stayed four years.

"Pressure is what Michigan State is all about," said Walton, a senior who finished with eight points. "Coach can go on the road anywhere and recruit the No. 1 player in the nation and say: 'I know you watched the Final Four on TV. I know you dream about going there. If you come to Michigan State University, we're going to get you into a great academic arena, and we're going to get you to a Final Four.' "

Michigan State had heard all season that the Big Ten didn't compare to the Big East and had heard the previous 24 hours that the Spartans would be no match for Louisville's pressing defense.

But Izzo stayed up late Saturday to watch extra Louisville game film and tweaked his game plan to help the Spartans attack the middle.

"The way they extended [their zone], there were some openings in there," Izzo said. "We thought if we get the ball moving a little bit because it's hard to pass in against [their length and athleticism], we'd have some kick-outs that were a little better."

After a few instances of Izzo yelling at Goran Suton, the 6-foot-10 center eventually grasped his role. He scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half, often from feeds from point guard Kalin Lucas. Suton also finished with 10 rebounds, four assists and a block.

"Once he settled down, he wasn't good -- he was awesome," Izzo said.

The defense-minded Spartans controlled the tempo and nearly cut in half Louisville's scoring from the regional semifinal, when the Cardinals overwhelmed Arizona, 103-64.

Earl Clark scored 19 points for Louisville, but go-to guy Williams shot only one for seven and scored five points, nearly eight below his average.

"They were quicker than us," Williams said. "Their defense was more physical, and we really couldn't turn them over like we wanted."

Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said the Cardinals had fallen out of practice playing against man-to-man defenses, having not faced one in their last seven games.

"That man-to-man gave us trouble because our inside attack wasn't there," Pitino said.

The loss broke a 13-game winning streak for the Cardinals, the top-seeded team in the tournament.

"No matter what happens," Pitino said, "only one team is going to be smiling at the end."

After playing in front of 36,084 fans -- Louisville red outnumbered Spartan green about 5 to 1 -- the Spartans are thrilled to be heading back to Michigan.

"It was as big a win as our school has had because we're going to Detroit," Izzo said. "That's been a dream and a goal since the day they announced where the Final Four was in 2009."

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sryan@tribune.com

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