East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had a plan to stop Kansas University’s offense: Put six different eyes on Sherron Collins.
“Pretty much the man that’s guarding him and the people on the side of him — on his left and right — they’ve got their eyes on him,” MSU guard Travis Walton said after the Spartans’ 75-62 victory over the Jayhawks. “It’s just knowing that he can attack.”
When Michigan State built its lead in the first half, Collins wasn’t able to attack much at all.
The junior guard had just five points — on 2-for-4 shooting — with six turnovers in 17 first-half minutes.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Jayhawks went into the break down, 37-18.
“When you’re a good player and you’re the team, you’ve got to get going, because if you don’t get going, it’s probably going to be worse,” Walton said of Collins. “He’s their engine. He’s got to come out and get 18, 20 points for them to contend for a game. We knew he needed to come up and step up, and a great player’s going to do that.”
Collins eventually heated up in the second half, but by then it was too late. He finished with 25 points on 6-for-14 shooting.
He also shot 13 free throws — making 11 of them — after halftime.
“He’s a tough player. He’s going to make you foul him,” said Walton, who guarded Collins for much of the game. “He’s going to attack you because he goes so strong like a bowling ball. He’s going to keep hitting you, keep hitting you. He’s going to get fouls called.”
The other part of the defensive game plan centered on KU big man Cole Aldrich.
Walton said the Spartans’ goal was not to allow Aldrich to get the ball inside on high-low passes. They also wanted to keep him off the boards.
Aldrich finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, but he had just one field-goal attempt in the second half.
“I think we frustrated him a little bit,” MSU forward Raymar Morgan said. “The bigs did a good job of stepping up and helping us out with the guards also. They just did a great job of walling him and forcing him to make bad plays.”
Izzo also pulled out old game film Friday night to help motivate his team.
The coach popped in the tape of Michigan State’s game against Connecticut on Feb. 5, 2000 — the last time a defending champion had played at the Breslin Center.
“It was amazing, especially when you see them getting fired up,” Walton said. “It got me pumping.”
MSU defeated UConn in that game, 85-66, and went on to win the national championship two months later.