The prestige may not be the same, but Michigan State is looking to advance to another title game at Connecticut’s expense. The Spartans will need a better effort than they showed in their last game if they’re going to play for the Maui Invitational championship.
Less than 24 hours after surviving a major scare, second-ranked Michigan State will face the unbeaten Huskies for the first time since the 2009 Final Four on Tuesday night.
The Spartans (3-0) have appeared in the last two Final Fours, including an appearance in the 2009 title game after beating Connecticut 82-73 in the semifinals.
Michigan State is a popular pick to play for the national title again, but merely reaching the championship game in Maui will require a better performance than what the Spartans produced Monday. They needed a 20-3 run in the second half to hold off upset-minded Division II Chaminade 82-74.
“As you say in the NCAA tournament, it’s about surviving and advancing,” coach Tom Izzo said. “We have some things that are concerns, but we’re going to bounce back and play better (Tuesday).”
They’ll need to against UConn (3-0), which is holding opponents to 40.4 percent shooting and outscoring them by an average of 15.7 points. The Huskies received eight votes in this week’s AP poll, and beating Michigan State for the first time in three meetings since December 1998 would likely vault them into the top 25.
Connecticut also struggled Monday, outlasting Wichita State 83-79 behind Kemba Walker’s 31 points - enough to overcome the Shockers’ 10-for-24 3-point shooting performance.
“We’re fortunate to win, we know that, but we also work to win,” coach Jim Calhoun said. “You don’t stay in a game like that when your offense is going poorly and the other team’s draining 3s on you, and not have some stuff about you.”
Walker is averaging 30.3 points on the young season, including a career-high 42 in an 89-73 win over Vermont on Wednesday.
The junior guard had five points in the Final Four loss to the Spartans, but has since blossomed into a bona fide star. He averaged 14.6 points last season.
Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas had a career-high 28 points against the Silverswords after scoring only five in an 82-73 win over South Carolina last Tuesday.
The senior, who had 21 points in the last meeting with UConn, leads the Spartans with 17.0 points per game, but could use some help from fellow guard Durrell Summers.
Summers finished with six points Monday after totaling 39 in his previous two contests.