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March 21, 2012
PHOENIX - Only two players remain from the top-seeded Louisville basketball team that was beat by then-No. 2 seed Michigan State 64-52 in the 2009 Midwest Regional final in Indianapolis, and they were non-factors.
But the scarcity of experience from that Terrence Williams/Earl Clark-led team doesn't matter to the current Cards -- they still feel they owe the Spartans, and they'll get their chance when the two collide again in the West Regional semifinals in the U.S. Airways Center here Thursday night (7:47 tipoff, TBS).
This time, Michigan State (29-7) is the No. 1 seed, while UofL (28-9) is No. 4, and this is the first time they've met since the game three years ago.
The two players remaining from that '09 UofL team are senior forwards Kyle Kuric and Jared Swopshire. Chris Smith is also a senior, but he has played only two years at Louisville after transferring from Manhattan. Nevertheless, he hopes to gain some revenge for the former Cards, as does freshman forward Chane Behanan.
"I feel like we owe them something because they beat our older guys," Smith said. "Everybody's a family once you play for the Cards, so we want to give them what they gave our older guys."
"Coach Pitino lost to them when T-Will was here, so we're going to try to make it a different result," Behanan said. "I told the seniors I wouldn't let them leave without a big bang, so we're just got to keep rolling. We're going to enjoy it and play hard."
On the other side, Michigan State star Draymond Green is the one Spartan who saw significant playing time in the '09 game as a freshman forward, and he expects to see the same kind of UofL team this time around.
"I know they're really going to get after it defensively," Green said. "That's one thing they did when I played my freshman year. They got after it defensively; they're really going to push the tempo. That's not going to change, that's (Pitino's) philosophy.
"If I can take anything away from that '09 game, it's going to be knowing the tempo of the game because they're going to try to push it. Last time they thought they were going to run us out of the gym, but we ran them out of the gym."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says if the Cards want to run, that's fine with the Spartans, who are coming off a grinding, hard-hitting 65-61 win over Saint Louis in the third round. He says he is looking forward to being a "race-car driver" again.
"Maybe in their case, a Kentucky Derby (jockey), maybe we'll get a couple teams going up and down," Izzo said. "But we can play any way, we've played any way. that's been a plus with our program for I think all 15 years (of NCAA Tournament appearances). We can play a slugfest or speed. And I do enjoy both."
Like Green, Izzo expects MSU's biggest challenge to be dealing with UofL's physical full-court press and 2-3 matchup zone.
"I may have to recruit some football guys to come press us this week," Izzo said. "They score a lot of points off their press and I think they'll press us a lot. It's a zone/man; we call it 'you pick 'em.' That will be the hardest thing to adjust to, I think. It's a completely different zone than most we've ever faced, different than the one in '09."
Green says the Spartans have been good at breaking presses this season and they are going to be aggressive.
"We're going to attack. A lot of people make a mistake and just try to break the press. We're not just trying to break it, we're going to make you pay for pressing us."