Backcourt brings MSU back from brink

INDIANAPOLIS -- Michigan State's backcourt showed it could be at its best even when it was playing its worst.

That's how things went Sunday night for the Spartans. But Lindsay Bowen and Kristin Haynie never got down. They never gave up. And thanks in large part to their perseverance, the Spartans will be playing for their first national championship Tuesday night (ESPN, 8:30 ET).

"I am so proud of Lindsay and her leadership and guts, and Kristin and her determination," said Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie.

After a jittery start by both teams, it was Bowen who opened the scoring, with a 3-pointer almost two minutes in. She knocked down another with 15:18 left in the first half, pushing the Spartans to an early 9-4 lead.

But then Bowen disappeared. For the next 20 minutes and 57 seconds, she was held scoreless, missing six straight shots from the field. And when she finally connected again, with 14:39 left in the game, Tennessee held a 47-33 lead.

But Bowen never got discouraged. After all, she's the Spartans' all-time leader in 3-pointers, and was second-best in the Big Ten this season from long range. "If you're a shooter, you've got to keep taking shots," Bowen said. "You can't get down on yourself."

Against Stanford in their regional final, Bowen was never able to shoot out of her slump, finishing with just four points on 1-for-8 from the field. But this time she was able to get back her touch. She notched a trifecta to cut the lead to 49-38. A jumper to cut it to 51-42. A huge trey to cut it to 51-47. And, perhaps most important of all, two clutch free throws with 1:50 remaining to make it a 62-60 game. Bowen sunk her final six shots of the game (including the two free throws), and finished with a game-high 18 points.

"It's all mental. You can either go down the drain or you can come back," said her backcourt-mate, Haynie. "She's a great shooter, a phenomenal player."

Speaking of comebacks, Haynie made one as well. Michigan State's point guard struggled the entire game, finishing with just four points and seven turnovers. But she kept her head in the game. And, because of that, she made the biggest, and best, play of the game with just less than a minute left.

The Lady Vols had possession, with the score tied at 62. Shanna Zolman was holding the ball out top for Tennessee. Haynie was playing the passing lane. But she was also reading Zolman's eyes. "I was looking right at her," Haynie said. "I figured she was going to the high post."

She figured right. And in a flash, Haynie had The Steal and was sprinting toward a wide-open layup on the other end. Michigan State took the lead. And eventually, the game.

"It's a Final Four game, it's do or die," said Haynie. "So you got to let that go and take it from there and then just keep your composure and keep attacking."

Added McCallie: "That was one of the greatest steals I've ever seen in my life."

So, one guard was the best player in the game. The other made the best play in the game.

That's a nice combo.

Outside their locker room after the game, both guards still seemed in disbelief over what had just transpired. Can you blame them? Their 16-point second-half comeback tied for the largest in NCAA Women's Final Four history.

"It's all just blending together in my head," Haynie said.

"I don't even remember exactly how we did it," said Bowen.

They did it by never getting down. And never giving up. By making big shots. By making a steal.

And everyone else who witnessed it will remember it. That much is for sure.

Kieran Darcy writes for ESPN The Magazine.