Saturday, April 4, 2009
Instant Analysis: Michigan St.-UConn
By Mark Schlabach ESPN.com
DETROIT -- The Spartans beat the No. 1-seeded Huskies 82-73 to advance to Monday night's championship game against the winner of Saturday night's other semifinal game between North Carolina and Villanova.
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: The Spartans defended the Huskies better than perhaps any other team this season, holding them to 42.4 percent shooting from the floor, including 2-for-6 on 3-pointers.
Michigan State was patient in the first half, running its offensive sets and largely taking quality shots. In the second half, though, the Spartans turned up the heat, running whenever possible for easy layups. MSU coach Tom Izzo apparently had a plan to wear the Huskies down. MSU used 11 players in the game; the Huskies used only seven.
At the end, Connecticut seemed to be out of gas and answers.
And Izzo, who has outdueled Kansas' Bill Self, Louisville's Rick Pitino and Connecticut's Jim Calhoun in the past three games, kept coming up with new ways to attack the Huskies.
TURNING POINT: The score was close throughout the opening half and during the first several minutes of the second. Connecticut cut MSU's lead to 53-51 on Stanley Robinson's two foul shots with 12:49 to play.
But then the Spartans went on an 11-3 run over the next 5:45, taking a 64-54 lead on senior Goran Suton's jumper off an inbounds play with 7:04 to go. The Huskies got as close as a six-point deficit at 66-60, but MSU sophomore Kalin Lucas knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 69-60 with less than four minutes to go.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Michigan State forward Raymar Morgan, who had struggled since returning from a mid-January bout of mono and walking pneumonia, had his best game in weeks.
Morgan scored 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting with nine rebounds and five steals. His points came when the Spartans needed them most in the first half, and his production had to be very surprising given how badly he struggled in recent weeks.
A junior from Canton, Ohio, Morgan didn't even score in MSU's upset of No. 1 seed Louisville in the Midwest Regional final. He broke his nose against defending national champion Kansas in the second round, and complained he couldn't see out of a mask he wore against the Cardinals. Fitted with a new mask on Saturday night, Morgan had no problem seeing (and finding) the basket.
PLAYER OF THE GAME II: Michigan State sophomore point guard Kalin Lucas was nearly flawless running the offense, scoring 21 points on 7-for-15 shooting with five assists. He made a big 3-pointer late in the game to give MSU a nine-point lead with less than four minutes to go.
UNSUNG HERO OF THE GAME: Spartans senior Travis Walton scored only two points on 1-for-6 shooting, but his contributions on defense were as big as any in the game. Walton held Connecticut senior A.J. Price, the team's leading scorer, to only 15 points on 5-for-20 shooting.
Price is Walton's latest victim, after he shut down Louisville's Terrence Williams in the Midwest Regional final last weekend.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Spartans were supposed to be the slower team from the Big Ten. But Michigan State scored 22 fast-break points, compared to only 10 for Connecticut. The Spartans pulled away after they produced breakaway layups off turnovers or defensive stops.
HALFTIME ANALYSIS: Michigan State led 38-36 at halftime. Here's how it happened:
HOW THE HALF WAS WON: With Michigan State trailing 29-27 with less than three minutes to play in the half, Spartans reserve guard Korie Lucious scored his team's next nine points to put MSU ahead.
Lucious, a freshman from Milwaukee, made a 3-pointer from the right side to put the Spartans ahead 30-29 with 2:49 to play. Then Huskies freshman Kemba Walker fouled Lucious on a 3-point attempt from the left corner. Lucious made three foul shots to give Connecticut a 33-29 lead with 2:18 to go.
After Jeff Adrien pulled the Huskies within 33-31 with two foul shots, Lucious made another 3-pointer to put MSU back in front 36-31 with 1:33 left.
SECOND GUESSING: After the first TV timeout with 14:27 to play, MSU coach Tom Izzo replaced all five of his starters. MSU went from having a four-point lead to a three-point deficit by the time they returned with 12:06 to go in the half.
MSU's reserves scored only one basket -- Lucious hit a high floater -- while falling behind by a 19-16 score with 12:06 to play.
PLAYER OF THE HALF: Michigan State forward Raymar Morgan, who has struggled since returning from a mid-January bout of mono and walking pneumonia, had his best half in weeks. Morgan, who didn't score in MSU's upset of No. 1 seed Louisville in the Midwest Regional final, scored 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting with two rebounds and one assist.
PLAYER OF THE HALF II: Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet might be the tallest player on the court, but Huskies senior Jeff Adrien is certainly the strongest. Adrien scored 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting with four rebounds.
Late in the half, Michigan State's Delvon Roe blocked Adrien's shot from behind. Adrien grabbed the offensive rebound, and was fouled by Travis Walton, the Big Ten defender of the year. Adrien knocked Walton to the floor like a rag doll, which nearly incited a fight on the court. Walton and Adrien had to be separated by officials, and MSU senior Marquise Gray also tried to go after Adrien.
STAT OF THE HALF: 11 -- Offensive rebounds for the Spartans, who outrebounded the Huskies by a 20-18 margin in the first 20 minutes.
WHAT CONNECTICUT NEEDS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Keep getting the basketball to Adrien. The Spartans are having a tough time containing him.
2. Take better care of the basketball. The Huskies turned it over eight times in the first half.
3. Make its foul shots. Connecticut went to the foul line 13 times in the first half, making only eight free throws. The Huskies missed four of their last six foul shots of the half.
WHAT MICHIGAN STATE NEEDS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Keep head faking. The Huskies are falling all over the court each time the Spartans shoot.
2. Keep the pace. The Spartans are doing a great job of controlling the game's rhythm and running their offense. Connecticut had only four fast-break points in the half.
3. Get Goran Suton involved. The hero from MSU's upset of Louisville didn't score in the first half. He took only one shot from the floor and seemed overmatched against Adrien and Thabeet. He has to be more involved in the second half.
Mark Schlabach covers college basketball and college football for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.