By LARRY LAGE/AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING (AP) – Michigan State’s Draymond Green refuses to let his sprained left knee keep him off the court against Michigan. It would take much more than that.
“Death,” Green said.
The senior forward insisted he’ll play in Sunday’s game, when the ninth-ranked Spartans (17-5, 6-3 Big Ten) or 23rd-ranked Wolverines (17-6, 7-3) will stay within a conference loss of third-ranked Ohio State in the standings.
Michigan has won three straight games in the rivalry for the first time since it won five in a row from 1996-98.
Green had a shot to stop the streak, but missed a floating 10-footer and a tip-in attempt within the last couple seconds of last month’s setback in Ann Arbor.
After that game, Green guaranteed Michigan State would win the rematch this season.
He didn’t back off his bravado on Friday, three days after he was injured in a loss at Illinois, when asked about being tested defensively by the Wolverines’ free-flowing offense that will force him to move a lot.
“Just tell them to go at me,” he said. “They’ll watch these interviews.”
The Wolverines fully expect Green to play and insist they’re not putting much stock in his guarantee. They’re simply focused on their goal of winning the school’s first Big Ten title since 1986.
“We’re sort of shooting for that,” Michigan coach John Beilein said, “knowing if we come close enough to that, if we don’t get that, we’re still in the NCAA.”
Green has helped Michigan State win two of the last three Big Ten titles and reach the Final Four in back-to-back seasons, but he desperately wants to avoid a 3-4 record in the series in his last scheduled shot at beating Michigan.
“They hate us, and we hate them,” he said. “Or they might dislike us, but we hate them.”
Green, who grew up in Saginaw, said his passion for the rivalry has grown each year.
“You want to see the football team beat Michigan,” he said. “As you keep growing, you want to see field hockey beat Michigan and wrestling and chess – and everybody else beat Michigan. It definitely grows. Then, you personally in basketball want to beat them more.”
The last two chances Green has had against the Wolverines, he’s been off his game offensively. He was held to seven points against them in January, in what was his season low until he was knocked out of Tuesday’s game with five points, and missed 11 of 14 shots in the last matchup in East Lansing.
Green, though, isn’t worried that Michigan can have its way with him again.
“I’ve watched a lot of film of them doubling and tripling me,” he said. “I definitely have them figured out.”
Green is averaging 14.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks per game, leading Michigan State in each category. He is second on the team with 3.5 assists per game.
He said coach Tom Izzo didn’t need to be convinced to let him play with a banged-up knee.
“We’re Michigan State, we’re built on toughness,” he said. “Coach isn’t going to sit me out and say, `Hey, you’re hurt.’ And I’m not going to sit out and say, `Hey, I’m hurt.”‘
Michigan guard Stu Douglass hurt a lot of feelings in East Lansing last year when his 3-pointer with 20 seconds left sealed a 61-57 victory, ending an 11-game losing streak at the usually raucous Breslin Center.
“I don’t really notice too much when crowds get really loud because you’re into it, but I really noticed it when they got pretty silent and dead in there,” Douglass said. “Right after that, the student section just put their heads down. That will always stick in my mind.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)