Izzo says this Michigan State team was special

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) A few days have passed since Michigan State's loss to Duke at the Final Four, so Tom Izzo has had a chance to reflect on a team he now views as an inspiration.

''You don't like this team, you love this team,'' Izzo said. ''There were a lot of players that gave me everything that they could give. I don't think it's the norm. That's why there are special teams.''

Izzo spoke for about an hour Thursday at his season-ending news conference, which took place a couple weeks later than a lot of people had expected. A No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans reached the Final Four thanks to an upset of Virginia and wins over Oklahoma and Louisville. The run finally ended in the national semifinals last weekend, when Michigan State lost 81-61 to Duke.

That lopsided defeat left Izzo disappointed in the immediate aftermath, but the sting subsided a bit.

''That took a couple days,'' Izzo said. ''The hardest thing there ever is to do is to be at a press conference right after something like that, because it just kind of for a moment takes away everything you gained in that month run, for a moment. And that's all you think about for the moment.''

The Blue Devils went on to win the national championship, and now Michigan State has to face the prospect of replacing seniors Travis Trice and Branden Dawson. Trice's emergence was crucial down the stretch this season, and Dawson was a presence inside pretty much from the moment he arrived in East Lansing.

After the game against Duke, Izzo lamented the way college basketball is officiated now - Michigan State dealt with major foul trouble against the Blue Devils. Izzo was asked Thursday about his thoughts on ''freedom of movement'' on the court and how much it should be protected.

''If I get on a rant about officiating or calls right now it would ruin a good press conference,'' Izzo said. ''I think we're going to have to look at a group of officials that, if they have to pay them a certain way, if they're unionized, whatever there is, if we're ever going to want consistency - otherwise all of us should quit complaining about it and just realize it's part of the situations you're going to get. Because the games, as we saw, are officiated differently.''

Izzo said increased freedom of movement may lead to more and more teams playing zone defense.

''It took me 20 years, but next year, I swear to you, we will play some if everything stays like it is,'' Izzo said. ''I just get a kick out of it now because me, personally, I didn't think it was right when we were chucking cutters and all that. That's what we were allowed to do, so that's what we did. I don't think that was good. I think we've gone way too far to the other side and it's not the officials' fault, it's our fault.''

Although fouls were a problem in their final game, it was free throws that stumped the Spartans for most of the season. But they overcame their foibles in a way that Izzo said reinforced his belief that good things will happen for his program if everyone works hard.

''We had more than a few guys that, man, they gave us everything they have,'' Izzo said. ''I go home and tell my son, `Hey, look what these guys did.' I will speak at places over the summer and say, `Look what this commitment did.' So if you are in the business, you're in the media, if you're anything - they were role models this year. They were role models because they earned their keep.''

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