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Archive for Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Michigan State stamps ticket to first Final Four

March 30, 2005

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— Finally, the Michigan State women are bringing a little balance to the school's basketball trophy case.

"We always looked across the hall and saw on the men's side all the hardware they've got," guard Kristin Haynie said. "Then we looked at ours and we didn't have any -- 'til this year."

Now, they have a chance to add an even bigger trophy to their growing collection. Move over, Spartan men. You've got company. The women are going to the Final Four, too -- for the first time in the program's history.

Liz Shimek made huge plays down the stretch, Lindsay Bowen got her only basket of the game at a critical time, and the top-seeded Spartans beat No. 2 seed Stanford, 76-69, in the Kansas City Regional final Tuesday night.

"Well, I tell you, Michigan State is the best," coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "The people are amazing, the homegrown talent is very special. And we're so proud of our men's team -- we're going too, baby! We're going too! I can't wait!"

Michigan State (32-3) never had made it past the second round in five previous NCAA Tournament appearances, but the Spartans looked completely comfortable when they donned their championship caps, delighting a small but vocal band of supporters that included Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her two teenage daughters.

The Spartans will play in the national semifinals Sunday in Indianapolis against Tennessee. The men will play North Carolina on Saturday in St. Louis.

Michigan State becomes the sixth school to send teams to both the men's and women's Final Four. Connecticut did it just last year and each team won the national title, the only time that has happened.

Could it happen again? Michigan State now has that chance, but it wasn't easy, even after the Spartans took a 13-point lead against the team that was ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll -- but lost out on the No. 1 seed to Michigan State.

Michigan State players celebrate their 76-69 victory over Stanford
in the championship game of the Kansas City Regional. With the
victory Tuesday in Kansas City, Mo., the Spartans advanced to play
Tennessee in the Final Four.

Michigan State players celebrate their 76-69 victory over Stanford in the championship game of the Kansas City Regional. With the victory Tuesday in Kansas City, Mo., the Spartans advanced to play Tennessee in the Final Four.

Stanford (32-3) came back to tie the score three times, but never got the lead and its 23-game winning streak ended, denying the Cardinal a seventh Final Four trip.

"You dream about this moment and you dream about going to the NCAA Final Four and it hurts so much and you're so close," said Candice Wiggins, Stanford's brilliant freshman.

Tennessee 59, Rutgers 49

Philadelphia -- Tennessee already gave coach Pat Summitt the record for career wins in this tournament. On Tuesday night, the Lady Vols gave her something even more meaningful -- a trip to the Final Four.

Shanna Zolman broke out of a slump with a couple of big baskets down the stretch, Nicky Anosike scored 14 points, and the top-seeded Lady Vols beat No. 3 seed Rutgers in the Philadelphia Regional final.

Tennessee will play Michigan State (32-3) in the national semifinals Sunday in Indianapolis.

"They were tough down the stretch," Summitt said. "We had some big plays from a lot of different people."

The Lady Vols (30-4) are in the Final Four for the fourth straight year, fifth time this decade and 16th time overall, all under Summitt. She extended her NCAA record with her 882nd career win.

Tennessee survived a long scoring drought, woeful shooting and a fine performance by Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter in avenging a December loss to the Scarlet Knights (28-7).

For the first time in the tournament, Tennessee's win didn't come easy.

Pondexter scored 25 points and made nine of the Scarlet Knights' 18 baskets, but she had little help until it was too late. The Scarlet Knights' physical defense kept them in it until the end.

"We will be a Final Four team," Pondexter said. "All we can do is get better."

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