March 3, 2007

Madison, WI

Kohl Center

A miracle that was not to be!

The Spartans fought a valiant fight here in Madison but in the end they just ran out of steam.  To their credit, they were in the game to the end and had the lead with four seconds to go.  Until UW hit a three with 3.9 to go.

You will hear people talk about the officiating (and it was the worst called game I have ever seen) but the fact is that it was called terrible both ways, and was not a deciding factor.  “I thought there was some close calls, it wasn’t lazy defense (talking about Raymar’s fouling out) I will say that.  There was some bizarre things on both sides of the ball today,”  was all Izzo wanted to say about the horrendous officiating.    Both teams could send the tape to the Big Ten together (about the quality of the referee’ performance) but I doubt you could get them to cooperate on anything. 

The game ended 52-50, but the Spartans sent a message to the nation:  watch out for us!

The Spartans came in throwing up and sick and coming off a very disappointing loss to UM, but they reached down and showed the Spartan pride MSU basketball is known for.  How they mustered the effort shown today is a mystery to me.  The mastery of Izzo and this staff once again showed us that last year had three future NBA players, but this is a much better team.  No one, I mean no one gave MSU a chance and they parlayed that like a master Vegas gambler into one for the ages. 

Izzo talks about playing for those who played before, and their isn’t a member of the Spartan Nation ex-player or not that can’t be full of pride.  MSU was plagued from the start with so many fouls (for the game MSU had 25 compared to Wisconsin’s 16) and that was because they were slowed by sickness.  They led in the turnover department also  with 16, but they led in the one stat that does not show up:  heart. 

Wisconsin has surpassed any Big Ten foe on the Spartan schedule (yes even UM) as the biggest rival to the Spartans and they (MSU) showed it here.  MSU simply refused to let any excuse hinder them from making this a battle.  When talking about his teams illness Izzo joked, “I thought we were going to have to forfeit.”

It is no secret that these two coaches and programs have no love for one another and this battle showcased that.  I hate to admit that any rivalry is bigger then UM because I know how much it irritates me when UM says that OSU is a bigger rival then MSU in football, but hey sometimes the truth hurts.  Izzo elaborated on the rivalry by saying “It’s kind of the way this rivalry has been.  Both teams played awfully hard…I am really proud of my team.  This team today between our illness and foul trouble…had a chance to win it and that is all you can ask for.”

When Kammron Taylor hit his three pointer with 3.9 seconds left, Neitzel missed a last second 30-foot desperation three and Izzo’s actions said it best.  He ran, yes he RAN to Neitzel’s side thanking his sick warrior.

I was asked by a colleague from a Madison TV station if I thought MSU was in the NCAA dance for sure even with a loss and I emphatically said yes.  He doubted me and said do.  After the game, he was the first to come up to me and say:  “no way your out, and Izzo has to be Big Ten coach of the year and Neitzel has to be Big Ten player of the year.”  I totally agree!

Now that Spartans look ahead to the Big Ten tournament and Izzo talked about his team’s preparedness when he said “I think we are a better team then we were today, and we have gotten better all season.  I am looking forward to the Big Ten tournament.  Since December first, it will be the first time all year on Monday that we have had a full team that is healthy.  I told my team we are going to get ready to make a run in the Big Ten tournament.”

I asked Travis Walton in the locker room about this teams effort and true to his style he said “there is no moral victory.  We play to win games.”  Neitzel was a little more complimentary when he said, “my team just played so hard, and I am really proud of them heading into the Big Ten tournament.”

There are definitely some issues with this team, but I will talk about them later in the week.  For now, I want to reflect on an effort that will be remembered for the ages in the Spartan Nation.