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Spartans have Big Ten lead; Race is headed for great finish

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State has surged to the top of the Big Ten standings, winning five straight, including a game at Ohio State, to snatch sole possession of first place.

Tom Izzo isn't ready to celebrate.

"Not even a little bit," Izzo said Monday.

The sixth-ranked Spartans aren't comfortable with only a one-game lead over the eighth-ranked Buckeyes and No. 11 Michigan with four games left in the regular season, potentially setting up a fantastic finish in the conference race.

"To be in first place means nothing at this point in the season," Michigan State's do-it-all forward Draymond Green said.

No. 16 Wisconsin is just two games behind Michigan State and 23rd-ranked Indiana is lurking close enough to have a chance to rally for at least a piece of the Big Ten title if the Spartans have a setback.

"There's still four or five teams that have a definite shot at winning it," Izzo said.

Who and where the contenders play may prove to be pivotal.

Michigan State might have the toughest road to claim its third Big Ten championship in four seasons, playing at Minnesota on Wednesday night before hosting Nebraska, traveling to play Indiana and closing the regular season March 4 at home against the Buckeyes.

"I think we have the toughest four games left," Izzo said. "With Minnesota, playing for their playoff lives; and Indiana down there, I think they've lost one game at home; the trap game with Nebraska in between and Ohio State at the end.

"I don't feel very comfortable -- and I'm not paranoid about it."

Izzo, though, wouldn't have believed it if he was told a few months ago that his team -- unranked in The Associated Press' preseason poll -- would be alone in first place with two weeks left.

"I am pleasingly surprised at how we've been defensively and offensively and even rebounding," he said.


Around the rims

*The University at Buffalo's women's basketball team continues its three game homestand tonight when it hosts Kent State at Alumni Arena (7 p.m., TWC 13, Radio 1340 AM). The Bulls (7-19, 2-10 MAC) have lost three in a row.

*Quincy Acy had 22 points and 16 rebounds to power No. 13 Baylor to a tough 77-72 win over Texas. Baylor rallied from a 12-point deficit early in the second half and Acy scored seven straight points to push the Bears to a five-point lead with under 3 minutes to play. Pierre Jackson made six consecutive free throws to put the game away for Baylor.

*Shabazz Napier swished a 29-footer with 0.6 seconds left in overtime, and Jeremy Lamb scored a career-high 32 points to help Connecticut stun Villanova, 73-70, Monday night. The Huskies (17-10, 7-8 Big East) rallied from an 18-point deficit to win.

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