Spartans oust top-seeded Cards

INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan State is heading home.

This season, it's for all the right reasons.

The Spartans fulfilled their dream Sunday by upsetting top-seeded Louisville 64-52 in the Midwest Regional final to reach their fifth Final Four in 11 years and add a hometown feel to college basketball's marquee event.

"It means a lot for the team, the coaches, the coaching staff," said Big Ten player of the year Kalin Lucas, who grew up 10 minutes from Ford Field. "You know, it does mean a lot for Detroit, too."

For Michigan State (30-6), there were so many reasons they wanted to get back.

The seniors wanted to keep alive coach Tom Izzo's streak of having every player who spent four years at the school reach the Final Four. The eight Michigan residents, of course, wanted another chance to play in front of those green-and-white clad fans just 90 miles from their campus in East Lansing. They wanted to atone for last season's regional semifinal loss to Memphis, and prove that the Big Ten's best can beat the Big East's best.

Plus, they wanted to give the city and state a reason to get excited after a dismal sports year in which Detroit has endured a winless NFL season, the decline of an NBA team once on the precipice of a title run, a baseball team that was a bust in 2008, and a Michigan football team that won three games last season.

Things have been even worse in the real world. The unemployment numbers are among the nation's highest and Detroit's economic staple, the automobile industry, is seeking federal money to stay afloat.

So the Spartans provided a much-needed boost.

"I'm just hoping we're a silver lining in what's been kind of a cloudy year for us," said Izzo, a native of the state. "I'm hoping that we're the sunshine, I'm hoping we're something to embrace."

Many in what is expected to be a record crowd of 72,000 at Ford Field are likely to be Spartans fans who want to erase the memories of their last contest there — a 35-point loss to North Carolina in December.

First, Michigan State faces Connecticut in Saturday's semifinals after preventing a third Big East team from stealing the show in Detroit. Villanova also made it.

The Spartans got there because of a masterful strategy. They dictated the tempo all day, refused to give up points in transition and dominated the rebounding late.

Goran Suton finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, earning the region's most outstanding player award. Detroit native Durrell Summers scored 10 of his 12 points in a decisive second half stretch. Lucas had 10 points, five assists and took control against Louisville's pressure defense.

Louisville, though, wasn't itself.

The Cardinals (31-6) had won 13 straight games by overwhelming opponents with their speed and athleticism but didn't play with the passion or precision they exhibited in Friday's 103-64 semifinal victory over Arizona.

On Sunday, Louisville finished with no fastbreak points, made only 10-of-18 free throws and had only two players — Earl Clark with 19 points and Preston Knowles with 11 — reach double figures.

Forward Terrence Williams finished with five points, six rebounds and four assists, and Louisville barely avoided setting a season-low point total because of Clark's 3-pointer with 12 seconds to go. The Cardinals scored 51 points against Connecticut on Feb. 2.

The result: a second straight regional final exit.

"They were the better team," Williams said. "They were quicker than us, their defense was more physical and we couldn't turn them over like we wanted to."

The Spartans managed to slow down Louisville, taking a 30-27 lead at halftime before overpowering the Cardinals in the second half when they trailed once, 34-32 with 15:33 to go.

Then Michigan State took control. Summers finished a 9-2 run with a dunk to give the Spartans a 41-36 lead and they put it away with a 17-7 spurt that gave Michigan State a 58-43 lead with 5:50 left.

Louisville only scored one basket the rest of the way, setting off a wild celebration that had Izzo jumping around and Lucas embracing Magic Johnson, who led Michigan State to its first national title 30 years ago and watched the game with his father in Indy.

"The game plan was beautiful," Johnson said. "The guys executed the game plan to perfection. The key to the game was going to be the pace of the game and our defense. We got the pace and we played great defense and that was the key."

At least it was good enough to get them a ticket home for another game or two.

"Detroit, here we come," Izzo said. "I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to that."

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