Zags Present First Real Test For Michigan State.
March 21, 2001
Michigan State's quest to repeat as NCAA champions will face its first real test when the Spartans meet upstart Gonzaga in the semifinals of the South regional.
The Spartans have reached the round of 16 for the fourth straight year, matching Duke for the longest current streak.
The Spartans, who beat Fresno State 81-65, will play the 12th-seeded Bulldogs, who beat No. 13 Indiana State 85-68 in the second round on Sunday.
Charlie Bell and Aloysius Anagonye each had 13 points to lead the Spartans, who are looking for their third straight Final Four appearance. Andre Hutson added 12 points and eight rebounds for Michigan State.
David Thomas, who came off the bench to add 10 points and 14 rebounds in the victory, says his teammates never underestimate any opponent, especially Gonzaga.
"I don't consider Gonzaga a Cinderella team. They have been to the Sweet 16 three years in a row," said Thomas. "It's another challenge for us, we have to stay focused and play tough. The tough team usually comes out on top."
For the past three seasons, the Bulldogs have proved Thomas correct.
In 1999, the Bulldogs reached the round of 16 by beating No. 2 seed Stanford, and got as far as the final eight before losing to Connecticut. Last year, they advanced to the regional semifinals with an upset of No. 2 St. John's, and this season they made it by surprising No. 4 Virginia in the opening round, then defeating Indiana State, the first time they've played a lower-seeded team.
Once again, Gonzaga is the underdog, but the team isn't awed by the prospect of facing the powerful Spartans, the nation's best rebounding team for the second straight year. Michigan State has a plus 16.2 rebounding margin, Gonzaga is only plus 5.8.
"We've used their rebounding as an advantage to our guys," Zags coach Mark Few said, "We've pointed out how their guys go to the boards with reckless abandon and pursue every loose ball."
The two teams have met just one before, with Michigan State defeating Gonzaga 70-68 on Nov. 29, 1997, in the championship game of the Coca-Cola Classic in East Lansing.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Gonzaga - West Coast Conference tournament champion, defeated Virginia 86-85, first round, defeated Indiana State, 85-68, second round. Michigan State - At-large bid, Big Ten Conference, defeated Alabama State 69-35, first round, defeated Fresno State, 81-65, second round.
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Gonzaga - 7-3, 4 years. Michigan State -
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