By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 8, 2013
Things just got a lot more interesting for the Michigan women’s basketball team.
After beating Indiana with ease, 67-40, late Thursday night in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines now find themselves matched up with in-state rival Michigan State (13-2 Big Ten, 22-7 overall) in what will be their third meeting of the season. They will face off on Friday at 8:30 p.m.
“Tonight we came out with a lot of energy and a lot of confidence (especially) through the bench,” said senior center Rachel Sheffer. “Just being able to know we have another game tomorrow is really great for us.”
The two teams first met in East Lansing on Feb. 4, where the Spartans routed Michigan, 61-46. Michigan State was led by sophomore forward Becca Mills’ 12 points five rebounds. The Wolverines’ senior forward Nya Jordan had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The next time these two teams met was Ann Arbor on Feb. 16, when Michigan (10-7, 21-9) out-fought the Spartans in the final seconds to grab a 70-69 win. It was the first time the Wolverines beat Michigan State in almost six years. Michigan’s success came at the hands of senior guard Jenny Ryan, who scored a career best 24 points, while adding eight rebounds, five assists and zero turnovers — the first time she's done that this year.
Now the Wolverines have to face the Spartans for the last time to see who wins the battle of the state this year. What was once a very one-sided rivalry — Michigan State has won 21 of the last 22 matchups — now has the chance to change with a Michigan victory.
“I thought we rebounded, and shared the basketball well (against Indiana),” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “It was a solid game for us against an Indiana team that has been playing well recently. With our (momentum) I look forward to (facing the Spartans).”
Added Sheffer: “I think (our game against Indiana) really showed the depth of our team. We had people coming off the bench, scoring, contributing defensively, just knowing we have threats all the way down our bench really helps us know that we can just score with whoever is out there. We are ready for any team, especially for tomorrow night (against Michigan State)."
The Wolverines will need their four senior starters — Ryan, Jordan, Sheffer and forward Kate Thompson — more than anything. The Big Ten honored all four earlier this week. Thompson picked up second team All-Big Ten honors, Ryan earned third team All-Big Ten honors — both the first of their careers. Jordan and Sheffer both earned honorable mentions.
They will need to bring everything they have in what could be their last Big Ten game of their careers.
Michigan State, meanwhile, earned the four seed in the Big Ten tournament, which gave them a bye in the first round. Junior guard Klarissa Bell’s 11.4 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game leads the Spartans. In addition, senior guard Jasmine Thomas’ 10 points per game and 3.1 assists per game are critical to Michigan State’s success.
With Michigan being on the bubble for earning an NCAA Tournament bid, a win over the Spartans would not only seal their tournament resume, but also give them a chance to make a run at the Big Ten Tournament title. A loss would end their conference season, and leave their opportunity to join the dance in March up to the selection committee.
“We’re really just focused on playing ourselves,” Sheffer said. “March is a new season come tournament time. We’re really just focused on the next game right now, which is Michigan State. We’re going to come back, prepare for that and just be ready to go for our next game.”