Michigan State has canceled all sports activities as our community deals with the COVID-19 crisis. In a time when sports have ceased, The State News is looking back at great moments in Michigan State sports history. Soon, we’ll be back to a world with sports, but for now, the past will have to do.
We'll be compiling these moments into a bracket with the MSU community voting on the best one, starting on April 1, via Twitter.
Today, we’ll be looking at the MSU women’s basketball run to the national championship game in 2005 and famous comeback against Tennessee.
Date: April 3, 2005.
Venue: RCA Dome, Indianapolis.
Matchup: 1-seeded Michigan State (32-3) vs. 1-seeded Tennessee (30-4).
The background: 2005 stands alone as the greatest season in the history of Spartan women’s basketball. Coach Joanne McCallie won AP coach of the year after leading a program that had never advanced beyond the second round of the NCAA tournament to the top seed in the Kansas City regional.
Three Spartans — junior guard Lindsay Bowen, senior guard Kristin Haynie and junior forward Liz Shimek — were named AP All-American honorable mentions.
Haynie set the MSU career record for assists that stood until 2020, when Taryn McCutcheon broke it. The Spartans beat 13 nationally-ranked teams during this banner year. Shimek led the Spartans at 14.8 points per game, while Bowen became the greatest three-point shooter in MSU history, making 2.2 per game at a 43% clip.
MSU ran through the NCAA tournament, surviving 9-seed USC in the second round, 61-59, and soundly defeating 2-seed Stanford in the final of the Kansas City regional, 76-69, to reach the first Final Four in school history.
On the other hand, Tennessee was, along with Connecticut, one of the titans of the sport. Though the Lady Volunteers had not won a national championship since 1998, Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt’s squad was the odds-on favorite to capture the seventh in school history. The Lady Volunteers were led by forward Shyra Ely and guard Alexis Hornbuckle, and were expected to make quick work of the upstarts from East Lansing.
The game: MSU came out in a matchup zone that the Volunteers struggled to score against early on, as the Spartans built an early 18-10 advantage. Haynie left the game with six minutes left in the first half after picking up her second foul, and Hornbuckle smelled blood in the water, making four straight baskets. The Lady Vols led 31-25 at half.
Hornbuckle looked set to shoulder the Lady Vols into the Tuesday night final after a dazzling display to begin the second half. Two reverse layups were sandwiched around a tremendous pass as Tennessee’s lead grew to 49-33 with 14:30 remaining.
Then, the 260 miles that separate the RCA Dome from Breslin Center were found in a flash. The Spartans found the range time and time again as Bowen and sophomore guard Victoria Lucas-Perry hit the only three three-pointers of the game to bring MSU all the way back within a point, 57-56. Lucas-Perry scored 11 of her 14 points in the final 6:01 of the game.
Haynie, whose 346 career steals ranked third in Big Ten history, made a critical one with the score tied at 62 and 58 seconds remaining. She drove unassisted off her takeaway to give MSU the lead. Tennessee guard Loree Moore answered with a jumper, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.
Senior center Kelli Roehrig, an unsung player on a team so known for the trio of Haynie, Bowen and Shimek, had her number called on the game’s defining possession. Her jump hook gave the Spartans the lead with less than 30 seconds left. The Lady Vols had multiple chances to tie the score, but Roehrig eventually cleared the ball with 10 seconds left and passed ahead to Lucas-Perry for the game-clinching basket.
Final: Michigan State 68, Tennessee 64.
“We never give up,” Lucas-Perry said at the time. “That’s what makes us so great.”
The aftermath: MSU lost in the national final to Baylor, 82-64.
The following season, without Haynie and Roehrig, the team still rallied to a 27-10 record, earning a 4-seed in the Bridgeport regional. The Spartans fell to top-seeded Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. McCallie left East Lansing to take charge of the Duke program after the 2006-07 season, leaving Suzy Merchant to take over.
Tennessee, under Summitt, won two more championships in 2007 and 2008. The legend retired in 2012 due to her diagnosis of dementia. She passed away in 2016. No Division I coach in either men’s or women’s basketball has ever won more games than her 1,098.