Foursome finalized

North Carolina, Michigan State will join Illinois and Louisville in Indianapolis

Posted: Monday, March 28, 2005


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  Michigan State's Shannon Brown (3) dunks over Kentucky's Randolph Morris, rear, in the second half of the NCAA Austin Region final at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas Sunday, March 27, 2005. AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Michigan State's Shannon Brown (3) dunks over Kentucky's Randolph Morris, rear, in the second half of the NCAA Austin Region final at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas Sunday, March 27, 2005.

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

AUSTIN, Texas — Kentucky's 3-point prayer bounced on the rim four times before falling through, and everybody held their breath during a five-minute review.

It was a 3-pointer, all right, forcing overtime.

But Michigan State re-claimed the momentum in time to force a second extra session, earning the Spartans a trip to the Final Four — their fourth in seven years — with their trademark withering defense.

As the final seconds of the first overtime ticked away, Kevin Torbert stood near halfcourt, smiled at his Michigan State teammates and screamed, ''Let's go!'' — and they did, not even allowing a last shot.

The Spartans made the most of their second overtime, pulling away 94-88 in the most gripping finish in a weekend filled with them to send Michigan State into the Final Four for the fourth time in seven years.


Members of the Kentucky basketball team sit dejectedly in the locker room after their game against Michigan State in the NCAA Austin Region final at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas Sunday, March 27, 2005. Michigan State beat Kentucky 94-88 in double overtime. From left: Brandon Stockton and Sheray Thomas.

AP Photo/Eric Gay

The trip to St. Louis, where they'll face North Carolina, will be sweet vindication for the Spartans' upperclassmen, a group that's been chided for being soft, weak and underachieving. Torbert, Alan Anderson and Chris Hill — seniors who were oh-so-close to breaking the chain of Final Fours begun by their predecessors from 1999-2001 — simply wouldn't let it happen.

Torbert went 5-of-6 from the foul line in the second overtime and Anderson was 4-of-4, keeping Kentucky from ever leading again in what certainly will go down as one of the more amazing of their NCAA-record 137 games.

This was the first time in tournament history that three regional finals went to overtime. Only once before had it happened in two of the four games, in 1992.

Fueled by Patrick Sparks' longball at the end of regulation — which the referees reviewed for five minutes to be sure his right toe hadn't touched the line — the Wildcats jumped to a 79-75 lead at the start of the first extra period. But they never led again and coach Tubby Smith remains without a trip back to the Final Four since winning it all in 1998. They've gone down in the regional finals three twice, twice now to the Spartans.


North Carolina's Raymond Felton (2) shoots over Wisconsin's Kammron Taylor (23) in the second half of the NCAA East Regional final Sunday, March 27, 2005, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.

AP Photo/David Duprey

North Caroilina 88, Wisconsin 82

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — No one sacrificed more than Rashad McCants to make sure North Carolina got back to the Final Four. So it was only fitting that he made the plays when the Tar Heels needed him most.

The star guard, no longer the team's leading scorer this year while accepting a more team-oriented role, swished a clutch 3-pointer and had two huge defensive stops down the stretch, leading top-seeded North Carolina past Wisconsin 88-82 Sunday in the final of the Syracuse Regional.

Sean May led the Tar Heels (31-4) with 29 points and 12 rebounds, and Raymond Felton added 17 points — including four free throws in the final minute to seal it. But it was McCants who did the most to end a marvelous run by the sixth-seeded Badgers (25-9) and send the Tar Heels to the Final Four for the first time since 2000.

They will play Michigan State, which beat Kentucky 94-88 in double overtime, next Saturday in St. Louis.

With North Carolina clinging to a three-point lead, McCants jumped high to swat away a 3 by Clayton Hanson with about 2 minutes left, Hanson's only miss of the second half from beyond the arc. Later, when Kammron Taylor drove to the basket, McCants again was there to stop him.

''I knew they were going to come at me,'' McCants said. ''I took that as an assignment and shut him down.''

Wisconsin closed within three again on an alley-oop dunk by Alando Tucker before McCants made his 3-pointer, coming off a screen by Marvin Williams to give North Carolina an 81-75 lead. He finished with 21 points.

That proved to be enough, and when the final buzzer sounded, McCants and Felton spent several seconds embracing in the lane while teammates quickly donned hats that read ''Syracuse Regional Champions.''

Coach Roy Williams advanced to the Final Four for the fifth time in his career; after four trips with Kansas, he's taking his alma mater in only his second season there.

''It's special, there's no question about it,'' Williams said. ''I loved 15 years at Kansas. I loved those four times there. But I did go to school here, my wife went to school here, my son went to school here and my daughter went to school here. It is special.''

One by one, he sent his players up a ladder to cut down nets on both ends of the court. He did the same when North Carolina clinched its first outright Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title since 1993, choosing to ignore any criticism for celebrating before the NCAA tournament.

No one could blame him this time.

''It's an unbelievable feeling,'' May said. ''It just didn't seem real. The emotions were indescribable. You have to go through it yourself.''

Tucker scored 25 points for the Badgers, who — despite their reputation for steady and methodical offense — never once tried to slow the pace. They scored more than 80 points for only the third time this season and the first since Dec. 27.

Still, they stayed close throughout, led by Tucker and the shooting of Hanson, a former walk-on. He scored 15 points — all on 3s — after averaging only 6.2 coming into the regional.

''Any time the season ends like this, it's emotional,'' Hanson said. ''Five years down the road, I'll be proud of it. But, right now, it stinks.''

Hanson's final points came with 8:48 left, nailing a jumper after Mike Wilkinson passed out of a double team. That cut the Tar Heels' lead to 68-67, and although Wisconsin never led down the stretch, the margin never was greater than five until the final seconds.

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