– Tom Izzo was after the teammate. You know, the high schooler who sported bodybuilder biceps and could steal rebounds off the top of the backboard.

At least it looks that way when Brendan Dawson leaps in traffic, rising until everyone else starts to fall, then rising some more. All that easy athleticism earned Dawson a spot on everyone's All-America list in high school, and Izzo chased him hard.

Somewhere along the way, though, Michigan State's coach began to notice the small point guard from Ohio who kept getting Dawson the ball during AAU games. Call it a happy accident that Izzo landed Travis Trice.

Just as he has missed on a few high-profile recruits the past couple of seasons, Izzo has secured a few lower-profile guys who are giving him one of the best rides of his basketball life.

None more important than Trice, whose superb performance Sunday was highlighted by a couple of late-game daggers.

Those tears you saw last week when Izzo talked after his Spartans upset Virginia to make the Sweet 16? Well, the coach knows what Trice has been through to get here, to this place, where confidence and self-awareness mix perfectly.

And Dawson?

He remains MSU's most forceful game-changer, a 6-6 coil of fast-twitch muscle who, when so inclined, can horse-collar a contest without making a single jump shot.

As assistant coach Dane Fife said: "He is our X-factor. When he's good, we are really good. He's our All-American."

And yet, All-Americas aren't as rare a commodity as the one Trice has morphed into: senior guards who can get their own shot and make them.

Fife said it wasn't until this year that the staff thought of Trice as much more than a catch-and-shoot guard. The coaches always liked his feistiness, self-belief and understanding of the game. Now he's averaged almost 18 points the past six weeks.

"It's all started to come together for me," he said.

Although the Spartans lost a couple of future pros off last year's team, it now has something it didn't have a year ago: a healthy senior guard on a mission who can score from anywhere.

"If we are going to do what we really want to do," Fife said, "Trav is going to have to make big shots."