INDIANAPOLIS -- Charlie Bell is the least known of Michigan State's "Flintstones" gang, but he became the bedrock of the defense last night.
Although his fellow Flint, Mich., natives Morris Peterson and Mateen Cleaves may have accounted more offensively, Bell helped the Spartans move on to their first national championship game in 21 years by shadowing Wisconsin's Jon Bryant.
Bryant, the West Regional Most Valuable Player, was held to 1-for-5 shooting and didn't make his first basket until 5: 40 left in the game. He finished with two points, 15 below his NCAA tournament average.
"I just bodied up to him," Bell said. "I didn't want to give him any open looks."
Bell sat in the locker room with an ice bag taped to his left knee. He had acupuncture on the knee two weeks ago, yet rarely favors the leg during games.
"I think it took a gallant effort," State coach Tom Izzo said. "It's kind of funny because our seniors have done so much that you forget about Charlie. His job on Bryant was incredible."
Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett originally only committed for five years to turn the Wisconsin program around, and he has hinted that he might not come back for his sixth season. After last night's semifinal loss to Michigan State, he hedged on whether he'll return.
"My wife and I are going to get away for a while and then think about some things," said Bennett, wearing his trademark red sleeveless sweater. "I believe I have turned this around. At the appropriate time, I'll know."
Florida's bench totaled 37 points in 87 minutes played. North Carolina, however, only received two points in 27 minutes from its backups.
For the year, Florida's reserves have averaged 31.9 points and outscored opponents by 11.8 points. In contrast, Carolina point guard Ed Cota played 158 of the team's 160 minutes this tournament.
How much did that translate into the Gators outscoring the Tar Heels 34-25 in the second half?
"Fatigue was a factor," Carolina center Brendan Haywood said. "It's going to be a factor because they have more energy."
Peterson has been almost as adept at drawing up plays as finishing them.
Last week, he asked Izzo to approve an alley-oop play during a timeout in the waning minutes against Iowa State. It proved to be one of the most pivotal plays of the game.
Last night, Peterson talked to Izzo during halftime about getting him the ball inside because he believed he could post up his defenders. And he went on to score half of his 16 second-half points in the lane.
"I think Morris realizes, like all seniors do, that the end is near and he'd sure like to go out on a positive note," Izzo said.
Said Peterson: "I knew it could be my last 20 minutes of my college career. I wanted the ball."
Smoking Tobacco Road
Florida's trip to the national championship game included victories over North Carolina and Duke in consecutive weeks. The Gators had never defeated a top-ranked team in their history before beating the Blue Devils in the East Regional semifinals, and pocketed their first win over the Tar Heels since 1964.
"I think it speaks volumes to where we are," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who will become the fifth person to coach and play in a national championship game. "Those two programs have been the models of success and tradition over the years."
Florida became the first fifth seed to advance to the NCAA final. Mississippi State lost in the national semifinal in 1996 as the fifth seed. The combined 36 points by Micous low in the Final Four during the shot-clock era was Michigan's 51 against Duke in the 1992 title game. North Carolina had won seven straight against Southeastern Conference opponents. Michigan State has won 10 of the past 11 meetings with the Badgers and extended the nation's longest current winning streak to 10 games. Cota had eight assists for 1,030 for his career, which is eight shy of second place on the NCAA's all-time list. Florida's 28 three-point attempts were a school NCAA tournament record.