It was a game that both energizes die-hard basketball fans and creates new ones.
It was a game where you wished that neither team would lose.
However, as all basketball fans know, the NCAA Tournament has only one mantra – "Survive and Advance."
On Easter Sunday, 2005, in Austin Texas, the Michigan State Spartans and Kentucky Wildcats, staged one of the most teeth clinching, fist pumping, gut wrenching, and thrilling 50 minutes of basketball in tournament history.
When it was finally over, the Spartans had outlasted the Wildcats, 94-88, to advance to the Final Four in St. Louis next weekend.
If the first forty minutes weren't good enough, with both teams playing tremendous defense and contesting every loose ball and rebound with everything they could muster – a 3-point shot at the end of regulation by Kentucky's Patrick Sparks created a story line of its own – and pushed the game into extra innings.
Sparks' shot came with the Spartans up 75-72, and as it bounced around the rim, four times, the entire basketball world slid to the end of its seat. Then, once the orange ball settled into, and through the net, the real tension began.
Sparks' foot appeared to be on, or nearly on, the line when he jumped to shoot. Raising the question – was it a 3-pointer, or a 2-pointer.
For nearly five minutes, the officials went to work with the help of instant replay to find an answer.
When they came to the conclusion that indeed, it was a three; both teams prepared for an extra five minutes of play.
At the start of (what turned out to be) the first overtime, the Wildcats looked ready to take control of the game, while the Spartans looked ready to fold under the weight of Sparks' tying shot. However, the Spartans had come too far this season to give up now, and when their defense kept the Wildcats from even getting a shot into the air on their last possession of the first OT, another five minutes was put on the game clock.
From there, Michigan State seized control of the game, with seniors Kelvin Torbert and Alan Anderson together hitting 9-of-10 shots from the foul line in the final five minutes to seal the victory, and stamp the programs' first tickets to the Final Four since 2001.
"It will go down in history as a great college basketball game," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "It hurts right now, but some of our guys will appreciate it later on."
With 5:25 left in regulation, fifth-seeded Michigan State seemed poised to advance easily. Torbert followed a block on defense with a basket on the other end, putting the Spartans up 70-62.
But Ravi Moss hit a 3-pointer with 1:55 left and Kelenna Azubuike made another with 1:06 left, making it a one-point game. Shannon Brown upped it to 75-72 by hitting two free throws with 19.8 seconds left.
Then came Sparks' game-tying buzzer-beater.
As officials reviewed whether the ball was shot in time (yes) and whether the tip of his right shoe was touching the line (maybe), Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was holding a clipboard and a pen, ready to diagram plays.
"Whether they count the basket or not, there's no doubt we're going to win this game," Izzo told his team.
Referee James Burr said he wasn't worried about the clock, but strictly with Sparks' feet. He said he felt comfortable with the decision after asking CBS to zoom in.
"I don't want to make a decision until I can see every angle you can possibly show me," Burr said. "When they finally blew it up, in my humble opinion, it showed that the kid was behind the line."
The Wildcats got to overtime, but their young squad ran out of gas after taking a quick 79-75 lead. The Spartans tied the game at 81 with 1:03 left when Maurice Ager made one of two free throws.
Kentucky kept the ball the rest of the way, but only got one shot - a bad one from Azubuike as the shot clock was running out. The Wildcats retained possession when the Spartans knocked the rebound out of bounds. Azubuike got another chance, but didn't even get off a shot before the buzzer.
Michigan State was led by sophomore Shannon Brown, whose 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting (five 3-pointers) was complemented by Maurice Ager's 21 points, and Paul Davis' 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Randolph Morris led Kentucky with 20 points and Sparks had 15, all from beyond-the-arc. Kentucky senior Chuck Hayes ends his Wildcat career tied for the most consecutive starts in school history, but without a Final Four trip. He had 16 points and five rebounds.
As for the Spartans, they live another day, earning another opportunity to extend what has turned out to be one of the most memorable seasons their programs' history. A team bombarded by outside criticism and inside self-doubt back in January, is now two wins away from a national championship.
If Friday night's victory over the Duke Blue Devils finally pulled the ridiculous "loser" anvil off the collective backs of Michigan State's senior class; then Sunday's win over Kentucky surely dropped that same anvil on their doubters once and for all.
In addition, for the much-maligned Big Ten, which had to put up with overrated cries from the "experts" for much of the season due to the dominance of top-ranked Illinois; there is now a possibility that it could have two of their teams meet in the championship game next Monday night.
With that in mind and provided that Illinois can defeat Louisville, and Michigan State can defeat North Carolina, in the semi-finals next Saturday, anticipate a second "overrated expert" anvil to be primed and ready for its final destination.