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Friday, April 3, 2009
MSU counting on Walton to stop Price


DETROIT -- No Connecticut player worries Michigan State coach Tom Izzo more than guard A.J. Price.

Price, a senior from Amityville, N.Y., was named most outstanding player of the West Regional after scoring 18 points in the Huskies' 82-75 victory over Missouri in Saturday's final. He averaged 20 points in the first four NCAA tournament games.

"I think that is a key matchup," Izzo said Friday. "Even though they have tremendous size up front, and have some very tough, good players and great rebounders up there, I still think Price is the guy who stirs the drink. He's had an incredible tournament. He's making shots off the dribble even more. He's getting to the basket. If he gets to the basket, then we have to help with our big guys. It's going to be a dunk-a-thon in there if we don't keep him in front of us, out of the paint."

Senior Travis Walton has been Michigan State's defensive stopper all season, and he'll draw the unenviable task of trying to slow down Price in Saturday's national semifinal game at Ford Field.

Walton, a 6-foot-2 guard from Lima, Ohio, was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He also was named his team's most inspirational player, as voted on by his teammates.

"Usually it goes to a sub or something else," Izzo said of his team's most inspirational award. "But I think every day, he brings it. If you looked at just talent, I don't know where you'd put him -- sixth-, seventh-, eighth-most talented player on our team? If you look at heart, you'd put him [number] one by a mile."

Walton's list of victims this season includes a litany of All-America-type players. In Sunday's Midwest Regional final in Indianapolis, Walton helped hold Louisville star Terrence Williams to only five points on 1-for-7 shooting in the Spartans' 64-52 upset of the No. 1 seed Cardinals.

With Walton hounding him, Michigan sophomore Manny Harris, the Big Ten's second-leading scorer, scored only seven points on 2-for-10 shooting in a 54-42 loss to Michigan State on Feb. 10. Texas guard A.J. Abrams scored only eight points on 3-for-10 shooting in a 67-63 loss to MSU on Dec. 20.

"He's gonna have his hands full tomorrow because we've put him up against the best of each conference has to offer," Izzo said. "Sometimes it's been 6-6 guys, sometimes it's been 5-10 guys. Ninety-nine percent of the time, he's answered the bell. He's got a little tougher task ahead of him tomorrow. But if there's anybody I feel comfortable in doing it, it's him."

Spartans center Goran Suton said Walton spends a few hours each week studying his defensive assignments on tape. Suton shares an off-campus apartment with Walton.

"He watches so much film, so much basketball," Suton said. "He dribbles the basketball around our apartment. He drives me crazy."

Walton is hoping he drives at least one more opponent crazy with his tenacious defense.

"He's a great player. He makes big-time shots," Walton said of Price. "It's gonna be a tough cover for me to kind of contain him. The main thing is to contain him and don't let him embarrass me in front of my home crowd."