Kentucky's 3-point prayer bounced on the rim four times before falling through, and everybody held their breath during a five-minute review.
It was a 3-pointer, all right, forcing overtime.
But Michigan State reclaimed the momentum in time to force a
second extra session, earning the Spartans a trip to the Final Four
-- their fourth in seven years -- with their trademark withering
As the final seconds of the first overtime ticked away, Kevin
Torbert stood near halfcourt, smiled at his Michigan State
teammates and screamed, "Let's go!" -- and they did, not even
allowing a last shot.
The Spartans made the most of their second overtime, pulling
away 94-88 in the most gripping finish in a weekend filled with
them to send Michigan State into the Final Four for the fourth time
in seven years.
The trip to St. Louis, where they'll face North Carolina, will
be sweet vindication for the Spartans' upperclassmen, a group
that's been chided for being soft, weak and underachieving.
Torbert, Alan Anderson and Chris Hill -- seniors who were
oh-so-close to breaking the chain of Final Fours begun by their
predecessors from 1999-2001 -- simply wouldn't let it happen.
Torbert went 5-of-6 from the foul line in the second overtime
and Anderson was 4-of-4, keeping Kentucky from ever leading again
in what certainly will go down as one of the more amazing of their
NCAA-record 137 games.
This was the first time in tournament history that three
regional finals went to overtime. Only once before had it happened
in two of the four games, in 1992.
Fueled by Patrick Sparks' longball at the end of regulation --
which the referees reviewed for five minutes to be sure his right
toe hadn't touched the line -- the Wildcats jumped to a 79-75 lead
at the start of the first extra period. But they never led again
and coach Tubby Smith remains without a trip back to the Final Four
since winning it all in 1998. They've gone down in the regional
finals three twice, twice now to the Spartans.