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Spartans' defense suffocates Thompson and the Wolverines

By Glenn Miller Jr., Daily Sports Writer
Published February 5, 2013

EAST LANSING — In a game filled with pink, the Michigan women’s basketball team’s night was spoiled by Spartan green.

Both teams wore special pink uniforms to raise breast cancer awareness.

Monday night’s affair in the Breslin Center was marked up to be a contested battle between the top two defenses in the Big Ten. Michigan State justified its position as the best defensive team in the conference, holding the Wolverines to 46 points and 38.5-percent shooting from the field.

On the other hand, the Michigan defense didn’t live up to its reputation. The Wolverines allowed the Spartans to shoot 42.4 percent from the field, while six players finished with more than eight points.

Michigan State extended a 12-game winning streak over Michigan by containing senior guard Kate Thompson’s perimeter shooting and senior forward Rachel Sheffer’s post game. Thompson, who came into the game leading the nation in 3-point attempts, shot 25 percent from behind the arc. In the paint, Sheffer couldn’t get anything to fall in, and finished with 12 points and five turnovers.

“Rachel really didn’t make any shots,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We didn’t really shoot the ball exceptionally well. (Sheffer) and (senior guard) Nya (Jordan) had a bunch of drives where they missed. It was one of those nights obviously.”

Though her 6-foot-4 presence is a major advantage, Thompson’s slim frame was exploited as the Spartans were physically imposing off set screens. Junior Spartan Klarissa Bell matched up on Thompson throughout the entire game, slipping through weak screens to disrupt the Wolverines’ leading scorer.

“I wish I had more time with her because I would buy her an ice cream shake every night to try to put some meat on these bones,” Barnes Arico said. “But I think teams really just push her up and off the screen and really do not even allow her to use screens.”

When Thompson struggled shooting in the past, Michigan depended on Sheffer and senior guard Jenny Ryan for support. But when it was obvious Thompson had a cold hand early against the Spartans, Michigan State’s forward Becca Mills harassed Sheffer under the basket. Ryan, the Wolverines’ typically calm leader, appeared flustered by their offensive struggles and couldn’t salvage the win against a conference rival.

“Every shot (Thompson) has is pretty much a contested shot,” Barnes Arico said. “I think other people need to make plays off that. Use her as a decoy a little bit.”

Michigan has now dropped four out of its last five Big Ten matchups, and there isn’t a game on the Wolverines’ remaining schedule that can be automatically chalked up as a win. In order to prevent sliding further down the standings, Michigan needs to stop relying on Thompson’s hot shooting for the majority of its points and find some type of consistency on offense.

“Michigan State is the program that sets the bar obviously in the state of Michigan,” Barnes Arico said. “They have a great fan base, a great following, a great program, a rich tradition, and they win. … Obviously we have one more shot at Michigan State, and I’m sure everyone will be excited about that.”


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