CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Two of college basketball’s most respected coaches are back in familiar territory.
Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans reached the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in the last eight years with a 60-54 upset of second-seeded Virginia on Sunday.
They will be joined by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils erased the memory of last year’s loss to Mercer in their opener by rolling past San Diego State 68-49 in the second game in Charlotte. It’s the 22nd time the Blue Devils have reached the regional semifinals under Krzyzewski.
Izzo, who admittedly doesn’t have his most talented team, said he changed his team’s defensive game plan in less than 48 hours.
Instead of having his guards jump to the ball and give help, Izzo relied more on his big men in the middle to stay disciplined and not cheat or go for steals while guarding Virginia’s flare screens.
It worked well as the Spartans held Virginia to 29.8 percent shooting, and 2 of 17 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“I’m not sure of all the great teams we’ve had, I’ve ever had one in a day that change what we do on a game plan and execute it as well as they did,” Izzo said. “I’m just proud of them, excited for them and looking forward to moving on.”
Duke’s win was much more dominant.
Freshman center Jahlil Okafor scored 18 of his 26 points in the first half as the top-seeded Blue Devils dominated the smaller and less athletic Aztecs.
Duke, which starts three freshmen, came to Charlotte with only three players on the roster who had won an NCAA Tournament game. The Blue Devils leave for Houston with national championship hopes.
San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who coached the Fab Five at Michigan, said he was impressed with what he saw.
“They’re very, very good,” Fisher said. “I don’t like to compare anything, but they are a talented, well-coached group that competes hard.”
Some other things to know about Sunday’s games in Charlotte:
OKAFOR TOUGH TO STOP
Okafor flexed his muscles in the first half and there was little the Aztecs could do to stop the potential No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. He finished with 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting with six rebounds and three blocked shots.
“I played against big players before but I haven’t played against anybody that big, with that skill set,” said SDSU center Skylar Spencer. “It was kind of hard to fight with him and not get called for a foul.”
Several SDSU coaches and players came down with a stomach illness over the weekend and weren’t quite 100 percent for their game.
But Fisher refused to use that as an excuse.
“It hit a lot of people from coaches to players to coaches’ wives and that’s not fun to deal with that,” Fisher said. “But that had no impact on how we competed, what we did, how we played. That had no bearing on it.”
Virginia won 30 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time, but has only three NCAA Tournament wins to show for it after being ousted early for the second straight season by Michigan State.
Last year the Spartans sent the No. 1-seeded Cavaliers packing in the Sweet 16. This year, the Cavaliers’ loss came one round earlier.
Virginia’s Darion Atkins felt this loss was even more painful.
“I felt like we were the better team going into it, but they showed that they were the better team tonight,” he said. “They were very aggressive. I don’t think we did a great job matching the physicality. They were pretty dominating.”
TRICE AS NICE
Michigan State’s Travis Trice continued his torrid pace in Charlotte.
The senior guard scored 23 points in the victory over the Cavaliers and is averaging 18.8 points over his last 11 games. The only game Trice failed to reach double digits during that span was the Big Ten Tournament championship against Wisconsin.
Trice battled through three injury-plagued seasons for the Spartans before earning a starting spot this season.
“I haven’t had any surgeries but I’ve probably had every injury in the book that would make you shake your head,” Trice said. “I just think everything happens for a reason. I just thank God for literally just bringing me through it. It’s made me a better person, honestly.”
The Blue Devils shot 58.7 percent in their two wins in Charlotte against Robert Morris and San Diego State. That included going 16 of 35 from 3-point range.
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in Charlotte contributed to this report.
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