- Sunday, March 27 2005 -
NCAA Austin Regional Finals (at Austin, TX)
Kentucky - 88 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Final Rank 7th by AP and 5th by ESPN/USA Today]
Michigan State - 94 (Head Coach: Tom Izzo) - [Final Rank 15th by AP]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 37, Michigan State 33
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Utah 62 - 52|||||South Dakota State 71 - 54|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Double OT Downer
AUSTIN, Texas - Chuck Hayes sat slumped in a chair on the bench, younger teammates on both sides as Michigan State erupted in joy and tore into a box of celebratory T-shirts and hats.
This wasn't how it was supposed to end. Not for Hayes. Not after a regulation and two overtimes that won't soon be forgotten in an NCAA Tournament where the limits of the incredible where stretched to the max. Yet there was Hayes, Kentucky's iconic senior, falling one game short of his goal of reaching the Final Four.
It wasn't fair, but somebody had to leave the Frank Erwin Center on the wrong end of a classic. Unfortunately for Hayes and a team that wouldn't quit, they were the ones left to play the 'what if' game after Michigan State punched the last berth to the Final Four with a 94-88 double overtime victory.
"It was a great game," Hayes, who finished with 16 points but was saddled with late foul trouble, said. "It was a great game and sometimes you get it and sometimes you don't. You figure if you give everything you have and all your hard work, you will get the result that you want."
Life has a tendency to not work out the way you plan it. In a game that seemed all but lost at the end of regulation, only to see the Cats be handed a second life on a mind-blowing three-pointer by Patrick Sparks, an old bugaboo perhaps sealed UK's fate. All season long, UK coach Tubby Smith lamented his team's lack of rebounding, then he watched as Michigan State recharged emotionally after falling behind by four points in the first overtime with a flurry of offensive rebounds.
After Sparks' three at the buzzer clung to the rim for an eternity before finally falling and the subsequent five-minute delay while the play was reviewed, the Cats scored four quick points to claim a 79-75 lead less than a minute in overtime.
Clearly rattled, the Spartans needed something to jolt them out of their daze. It came in the form of a possession that saw State track down four offensive rebounds off three missed triples and an errant free throw by Paul Davis. Finally, Shannon stuck his fifth three of the game - he was a 28 percent shooter - pulling State back to within a point on the scoreboard, but more importantly, back into the game mentally.
"That was a huge play," State guard Chris Hill said. "That was probably the turning point of overtime. We were struggling and had to have a basket. That gave us a big emotional lift."
UK admitted that might have been where the game was lost. Despite having outrebounded the Spartans in regulation, that possession was a microcosm of a season of rebounding woes.
"That was a dagger," freshman Rajon Rondo said.
It was more than that. It was the kind of sequence that defines games of this magnitude.
"Rebounding was our Achilles' Heel all year long," sophomore Bobby Perry said. "We never got it fixed. It happened on the one possession it couldn't happen on."
Still, UK had a chance to snip the nets down at the end of that first overtime. With the game tied at 81, the basketball trickled out of bounds off Michigan State on a missed Kelenna Azubuike shot with 25.5 seconds left. The Cats opted not to call a timeout, instead trying a clear out play for Rondo. Rondo was shut down and handed off to Azubuike with just seconds remaining, who then dribbled around the three-point arc without even getting a shot off.
"That's the cardinal rule," junior Ravi Moss said. "No matter what, you get up some kind of shot."
As the classic headed into a second overtime, the Cats' offense sputtered. Freshman Joe Crawford, who replaced a fouled out Azubuike, forced two awkward shots with the shot clock running down and then Rondo threw the ball away on a fast break with the Cats down 84-81. Twice in the last 30 seconds UK closed the gap to two points, but Michigan State all six of its free throws in the final 12 seconds to seal a trip to the Final Four.
The bitterness of the defeat will likely stick with Hayes for years because it was his chance to complete his remarkable career. But the native Californian was sought solace in the fact that he earned everyone's respect, which was evident when Michigan State coach Tom Izzo walked to the heartbroken Hayes on the bench, hugged him and whispered something in his ear.
"He isn't the biggest of the best, but he is their version of what Mateen Cleaves was for me," Izzo said. "What Magic Johnson was to Jud (Heathcote). He is a winner.
It was a telling moment, but it wasn't the way it was supposed to end. Not for Chuck Hayes.
Chuck Hayes shoots
Sheray Thomas finished an alley-oop
Joe Crawford works against MSU's Shannon Brown