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Izzo: emotions, depth could be MSU’s advantage

March 31, 2009

During his weekly press conference, MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo discusses the opportunity to play in Detroit for the Final Four, and the challenges his team will face against Connecticut. The Spartans and Huskies will play for a spot in the national championship game at 6:07 p.m. Saturday at Ford Field.

The MSU men’s basketball team has all the storylines.

The season is the 30th anniversary of the basketball program’s first national championship.

The team is playing the Final Four 91 miles away from its home arena.

The trip is a chance to help out Detroit’s stumbling economy.

“We got all those goofy things on our side,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said. “I don’t think (UConn center Hasheem Thabeet) gives a damn about any of them, but I do.”

When the Spartans play Connecticut at 6:07 p.m. Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit, they will once again be the heavy underdog against the Huskies (31-4).

Not only does UConn have Thabeet, a 7-foot-3-inch center who averages 13.5 points, 10.9 rebounds and 4.3 blocks a game, but the Huskies have a host of other very skilled players to make them the consensus second-best team in the Final Four.

Guard A.J. Price is leading the Huskies with 14.7 points a game, while Jeff Adrien is also averaging a double-double, scoring 13.5 points and pulling down 10 boards per game.

“Looking at UConn, they are very, very talented,” Izzo said. “I think the difference in their team is that Price has gone from a very good player to a great player.

“Inside, Adrien is tough, strong, competitive and skilled. He can block shots, he can hit 15-foot shots and he’s a tremendous offensive rebounder.”

Izzo admitted UConn had strengths on the inside, outside and at the point guard positions, but also said a weakness could be that UConn is “maybe not a great shooting team.”

The Huskies are shooting 34 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

As for his team, Izzo said the exhilarating trip to the Final Four will hopefully continue to be a boost for the Spartans.

“Our pluses are we’re on a little bit of an emotional high now, and if we can continue that, we have that to our advantage,” Izzo said.

“We do have some depth, so we can run and try to wear them down some and make Thabeet get up and down some — I think that could be an advantage for us. We know where the restaurants are. That’s the only other thing we’ve got on them.”

Looking for advice

Izzo has the better postseason résumé, but last week he went to MSU women’s head coach Suzy Merchant for advice.

Izzo was impressed with how Merchant got the women’s team to play to a 69-68 loss in the Sweet 16, even after an emotionally draining win over No. 1 seed Duke and former coach Joanne P. McCallie. With the joy of winning the Final Four, Izzo wants to make sure his players know the grand prize is still ahead of them.

“I think our guys have to look at it the same way. We’ve talked to our guys about that, but we are young yet,” Izzo said of his three sophomores and three freshmen. “We do have six guys — three of them just out of diapers, three of them still in diapers — so because of that you don’t know how well you’re going to respond.”

Lucas leading the team

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Sophomore guard Kalin Lucas’ numbers in the NCAA Tournament thus far may not jump off the stat sheet, but Izzo said there’s a more telling stat than Lucas’ 12.8 points and 5.5 assists per game averages.

“Winning is never a stat on the stat sheet, as far as the ones that anyone looks at,” Izzo said.

“They look at it on the scoreboard, they look for it in the newspaper, but the stat sheets should say winning and it should encompass all that and nothing else should matter.”

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