Michigan State women join men in Final Four

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Finally, the Michigan State women are bringing a little balance to the school's basketball trophy case.

"We always looked across the hall and saw on the men's side all the hardware they've got," guard Kristin Haynie said. "Then we looked at ours and we didn't have any -- 'til this year."

Now they have a chance to add an even bigger trophy to their growing collection. Move over, Spartan men. You've got company. The women are going to the Final Four, too -- for the first time in the program's history.

Liz Shimek made some huge plays down the stretch, Lindsay Bowen got her only basket of the game at a critical time and the top-seeded Spartans beat No. 2 seed Stanford 76-69 in the Kansas City Regional final Tuesday night.

"Well, I tell you, Michigan State is the best," coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "The people are amazing, the homegrown talent is very special. And we're so proud of our men's team -- we're going too, baby! We're going too! I can't wait!"

Michigan State (32-3) had never even made it past the second round in five previous NCAA Tournament appearances, but the Spartans looked completely comfortable when they donned their championship caps, delighting a small but vocal band of supporters that included Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her two teen daughters.

The Spartans will play in the national semifinals in Indianapolis on Sunday night, facing Tennessee, a 59-49 winner over Rutgers. The men will play North Carolina in St. Louis on Saturday.

Michigan State becomes the sixth school to send teams to both the men's and women's Final Four. Connecticut did it just last year and each team won the national title, the only time that has happened.

Could it happen again? Michigan State now has that chance, but it wasn't easy, even after the Spartans took a 13-point lead against the team that was ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll -- but lost out on the No. 1 seed to Michigan State.

Stanford (32-3) came back to tie the score three times but never got the lead and its 23-game winning streak ended, denying the Cardinal a seventh Final Four trip.

"You dream about this moment and you dream about going to the NCAA Final Four and it hurts so much and you're so close," said Candice Wiggins, Stanford's brilliant freshman.

Stanford drew to 70-69 on Wiggins' three-point play with 43.6 seconds left. But Bowen, who had been 0-for-7, answered with her only basket of the game, a 15-footer with 27.1 seconds to go.

"As a shooter you have to stay with it," Bowen said. "I was looking for a shot all night long. I finally got it and I hit it."

When Stanford's Kelley Suminski missed a 3-point shot, Bowen was there for the rebound, producing a fast-break layup by Kelli Roehrig. And Bowen stole the ball at the end to make two final free throws.

Haynie went 4-for-4 on 3-pointers and finished with 20 points, seven assists and seven rebounds for the Spartans. Rene Haynes scored 14 and Roehrig had 10, plus six assists and eight rebounds.

Wiggins led Stanford with 19, Brooke Smith scored 16 and Suminski 11.

Haynie, who had a triple-double on Sunday night, was named the regional MVP. She finished the two games with 33 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists.

"The leadership of Kristin was unbelievable," McCallie said. "I'm thrilled for her and the way she directed the team and just led, the courage in which she led. I sometimes questioned her shot selection, but not for more than half a second."

The Final Four trip continues the Spartans' steady progress under McCallie, who arrived from Maine in 2000 with a goal of putting Michigan State on the national map. In this breakout season, she has certainly succeeded.

"It is a great way to show the whole country we are here to stay," Bowen said. "You don't count out Michigan State in any sport."

The Spartans have set a school record for victories -- nine more than the old mark -- and they'll take a school-record 16-game winning streak to Indianapolis.

They were shaky in their first two NCAA Tournament games and needed a last-second shot to escape Southern California in the second round, but they beat Vanderbilt in the regional semifinals with a strong second half and did the same in this one.

With the score tied at 28, Haynie opened the second half with two straight 3-pointers, starting a 17-5 run. When Roehrig sank two free throws with 11:09 remaining, the Spartans led 55-42.

But Stanford started getting the ball inside to Smith and roared back with a 15-2 run, tying it at 57. Shimek's left-handed shot inside stopped the Cardinal's momentum and the score was tied twice more before Haynes put the Spartans ahead to stay with two free throws. On this night, Michigan State had an answer for everything the Cardinal tried.

"There's a lot invested emotionally with the players and how hard they worked and all the things they sacrificed to be in this situation," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "It will probably hit me at four in the morning. And it hits very hard."