The path Michigan State took to Saturday’s NCAA semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium started, in some ways, just across downtown Minneapolis.
On Oct. 27, the Spartans played Gonzaga at Target Center in one of those “secret” scrimmages permitted under NCAA rules. No fans. No media. Just two teams working out the kinks.
“We met halfway,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “… And I guess maybe somebody said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to come back here?’ ”
It was Michigan State’s lone trip to Minnesota before the Final Four, as the Spartans defeated the Gophers twice — once in East Lansing and once in Des Moines, in the NCAA tournament’s second round.
From all accounts, Gonzaga outplayed Michigan State in the scrimmage, outscoring the Spartans 58-46 in the first half and 52-46 in the second. But the Zags didn’t earn a return trip to Minneapolis, losing to Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.
Auburn players sick
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said starting guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown were both getting over colds that would’ve kept them from being at full strength if the Tigers had to play Friday.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys that are sniffling and hacking and coughing, but we don’t play [Friday],” Pearl said. “Jared would be less than 100 percent if we had to play [Friday]. If we played [Thursday], Bryce would have been less than 100 percent. He’ll be fine [Saturday].”
Harper, who had 26 points to lead Auburn to a victory over Kentucky in the Elite Eight, said his being “a little sick” wasn’t going to keep him out of preparing to play the Cavaliers.
“This is a big moment for us as a team and us as a program,” he said. “So I know I’m going to be ready.”
Curry sends shoes
Auburn and Texas Tech received special shoes for the Final Four, courtesy of Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry. Like Curry, both teams are sponsored by Under Armour. He also sent each team a video.
Auburn senior Malik Dunbar said Curry’s video message was that he, like the Tigers, was an underdog.
“He had the same path we had,” Dunbar said.
So it’s clear whom Curry is pulling for in Saturday’s semifinals.
“He’s an Under Armour guy. I respect it,” said Virginia’s Braxton Key, whose team is sponsored by Nike. “Hopefully LeBron [James] and KD [Kevin Durant, both Nike clients] can reach out to us and give us some new shoes. Hook us up.”
Duke fell one step short of the Final Four, losing to Michigan State, but Blue Devils freshman Zion Williamson was at U.S. Bank Stadium on Friday, collecting the Oscar Robertson Player of the Year and Associated Press Player of the Year awards.
“I wish I was here under different circumstances, but you win some, you lose some,” Williamson said. “You’ve just gotta move on.”
Williamson averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds during the regular season and then returned from a knee injury as an even bigger force for the postseason. Between the ACC tournament and four NCAA tournament games, Williamson averaged 26.4 points and 9.1 rebounds.
He is widely expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. He shot down chatter that there are certain NBA teams he wouldn’t want to play for.
“Whatever NBA team I land on, that’s where I want to be,” he said.
Including the New York Knicks?
“Yes, if they draft me, I would love to play for them,” Williamson said.
Staff writer Megan Ryan contributed to this report.