Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

South Regional: Spartans get shot at Ford

Michigan State latest team to try to slow UT, sophomore guard

March 30, 2003


— The day before the South Regional final, Texas' T.J. Ford already was causing problems for Michigan State.

It's tough enough that the Spartans lack a true point guard to match up with the Naismith Award winner today. But Saturday, their worry was finding someone to simulate the speedy Ford in practice.

"Unless he's into cloning, we're in trouble," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "We might put a box-and-one on him, with four guys guarding him and one guy guarding the rest."

Only 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, Ford is the big man in this matchup, with a Final Four spot at stake.

If Ford can work his open-court magic, the top-seeded Longhorns (25-6) can get the pace and scoring up and start thinking about spending next weekend in New Orleans.

But if Michigan State (22-12) can limit his touches or clog his passing lanes, Ford would be forced to shoot -- his lone weakness. Only a 42-percent shooter coming into the tournament, he's slipped to 29 percent (12-of-41) in three NCAA Tournament games. He's 0-for-5 on three-pointers.

What the Spartans have going for them is that defense is their strength. In winning eight of the last nine, opponents have averaged only 55.3 points. Texas' season low is 57.

"We know every shot we put up, it's going to be tough," Ford said. "I just want to establish the tempo, keep everyone relaxed and focused and make sure we have fun."

Michigan State hasn't faced anyone like Ford, whose pass-first attitude catches defenses off guard because he drives as if he's going to shoot, then finds a way to squeeze the ball through traffic to a teammate for a layup.

"He has so many different gears," said Alan Anderson, the Spartans' latest converted point guard. "He goes at the basket 100 mph, stops on a dime and goes again. He sees the floor so well."

Sophomore Kelvin Torbert, Michigan State's best defender the last two seasons, will be assigned to Ford. Asked to compare someone with Ford, Torbert smiled, shook his head and said, "Ain't nobody like him."

Torbert knows, too. He was Ford's teammate at an adidas summer camp several years ago and remembers wondering what the little guy was doing there. Then he saw him play and quickly understood. They've also gone against each other in AAU tournaments.

"No matter what he does, he makes everyone around him better," Torbert said. "We've got to throw a lot of bodies at him and keep everyone fresh to make it difficult for him. We've got to help on him, but we can't overhelp. Hopefully we can try to tire him out on defense."

The only time Connecticut stopped Ford Friday night was when he went to the bench with four fouls and 10:30 left. Texas led by seven at the time. The game was tied when he returned five minutes later.

The pressure doesn't seem to be getting to Texas. Coach Rick Barnes, who rarely shows a sense of humor at news conferences, kept it going later when he said he thought Michigan State had the advantage at point guard.

"We've always believed three or four guys are better than one," he said.

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