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Forget Spartans' dominance, teams say

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2000


INDIANAPOLIS -- If the third time wasn't the charm, the Wisconsin Badgers certainly hope the fourth is: They have lost their first three meetings to Michigan State.

"This team does not lack confidence," Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett said Friday. "That seldom has been a problem for us. But if you're asking is there a seed of doubt, I would be lying if I spoke for them and said there wasn't or if I spoke for myself. When a team beats you three times, then you perhaps say that's a superior team."

Wisconsin junior forward Andy Kowske backed off a previous statement that his team would have to play the perfect game to beat the Spartans.

"I probably misquoted myself," he said, shrugging. "The perfect game. I don't think there is a perfect game. But I do think we're going to have to play our best game."

History says the Badgers' chances are long, but not off the board.

Villanova, which had lost three meetings to Big East rival Georgetown, stunned the Hoyas in the 1985 championship game. It didn't take a perfect performance, just a Final Four record 78.6 shooting from the floor.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said the only advantage from winning the first three meetings is a great respect for the Badgers.

"We know what we're in for," he said. "I guarantee you it will be a tough game."

SAD WEEK: Michigan State forward Morris Peterson traveled to Picayune, Miss., on Thursday for the funeral of his grandmother, Clara Mae Spencer. She died of complications from a February stroke. She was 72.

"It's been like an emotional roller coaster," Peterson said. "I think about the game, my family and my grandmother. ... I talked to my family a lot yesterday and they told me to go out there and concentrate on my game because my grandmother's going to be here in spirit. I think actually she's going to have the best seat in the house; sitting right there watching over the team and guiding us. Hopefully, we can make something happen for her."

THREE THE HARD WAY: The Michigan State-Wisconsin semifinal will be the third time that two Big Ten schools have met in the Final Four. In 1976, Indiana defeated Michigan 86-68 in the championship game to remain undefeated and give Bob Knight his first title. In 1989, Michigan beat Illinois 83-81 en route to the title.

DID YOU KNOW?: Bennett's first NCAA Tournament appearance came in 1991 while with Wisconsin-Green Bay. The opponent was Michigan State, which won 60-58 on a last-second shot by Steve Smith.

QUOTABLE: "He's our version of Reggie Jackson, Mr. October. A.J. seems to be Mr. March." -- Izzo on the particularly strong play of senior forward A.J. Granger during the NCAA Tournament the past two years.

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