DETROIT — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was looking for a bit of motivational magic before Saturday's national semifinal showdown against Connecticut and turned to, among others, an old alumnus:
Earvin "Magic" Johnson, the hero of the Spartans' first championship team 30 years ago.
"Nobody tops Earvin; he's the best," Izzo said.
"Magic just told us to focus and know our assignments and play hard," added sophomore guard Durrell Summers. "He said if we play hard, we won't have any regrets or any worries."
The Spartans went out and, further buoyed by legions of green-clad fans among the Final Four-record 72,456 who transformed Ford Field into a St. Patrick's Day block party, did all of those things and, as promised, had no worries.
They used their deeper bench and desire to overwhelm the favored Connecticut Huskies, 82-73, and advance to Monday's championship game for the first time since 2000, the year they beat Florida to win the program's second title.
The No. 2-seeded Spartans (31-6), the first team since Duke in 1994 to play in a Final Four in its home state, has beaten two straight No. 1 seeds from the Big East, Louisville and UConn (31-5).
"Tommy Izzo is one of my best friends," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "He's a future Hall of Fame coach. He's probably going to win his second national championship on Monday. Yet I think in all honesty, and I truly, truly believe this, they played different. …
"We've seen teams they played. We saw tapes of games. And that's a different team."
Down 49-47 early in the second half, the Spartans demolished the stereotype that Big Ten teams walk the ball up the court at every turn. They ran it.
"We thought we had depth over them," Izzo said. "That's why we had to run and wanted to run."
In a 66-second span in the second half, reserve forward Draymond Green tied the score on a fastbreak dunk, point guard Kalin Lucas followed with a fastbreak layup on which he split two defenders to get the shot off then backup guard Chris Allen added a layup for a 53-49 lead.
Later in the half, forward Raymar Morgan stole the ball in the frontcourt and fed Summers for a breathtaking dunk over Stanley Robinson that gave Michigan State a 66-56 lead.
The Spartans outscored UConn 22-10 on fastbreaks.
Raymar, who has struggled with illness and injuries this season and was wearing a mask after breaking his nose last week, all but sealed the win with a fastbreak dunk for a 71-60 lead with just 3:18 left. Raymar finished with 18 points after mustering seven total in his three previous NCAA games.
Lucas had 21 points, freshman guard Korie Lucious added 11 (all in the first half) and Summers had 10 as the Spartans bench outscored UConn's 33-7, which Calhoun called "enormous."
The Spartans call it pure magic.
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.
Monday: National final
No. 2 Michigan State vs. North Carolina, 9:21
Where: Ford Field, Detroit
TV: Ch. 10
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