HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — In each of its two previous matchups with Michigan State this season, the Michigan women’s basketball team pulled off convincing victories on the strength of stellar defense and efficient shooting.
But in their Big Ten Tournament opener against the Spartans, the Wolverines struggled early in both areas.
After neutralizing every Michigan State threat except forward Aerial Powers in the first two games, Michigan’s defense allowed four Spartans to reach double figures in scoring. The Wolverines’ offense missed its first 10 3-pointers and finished the game with a 16.7 shooting percentage beyond the arc.
Sparked by an early eight points from forward Becca Mills, Michigan State opened the game on a 19-4 run, and Michigan was unable to fight its way out of the early hole. Led by Powers’ double-double (16 points, 15 rebounds), the Spartans pulled away with a 69-49 victory, eliminating the Wolverines from the Big Ten Tournament for the third straight year.
“Michigan State was fired up about losing the first two contests because that’s something that they’re not really accustomed to doing,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I’m sure they were ready to go. They really played well tonight. They shot the basketball extremely well. We didn’t.”
Michigan State completely dominated the paint, holding senior forward and second-team All-Big Ten selection Cyesha Goree to five points on 2-for-13 shooting.
The Spartans’ defense left Goree looking visibly frustrated throughout the contest — she only made one of her six free throw attempts and looked incredulous after she was blocked on a fast-break attempt to end the first half.
“She missed uncontested shots, contested shots, free throws … I mean, she seemed to miss every opportunity that she was getting,” Barnes Arico said. “And it’s kind of a bummer for her to have that as a senior against Michigan State tonight. But she’s had such a tremendous season for us this year, I don’t want this to take away from the year that she’s had for our team.
To compensate for its struggles in the post, Michigan turned its attention beyond the arc and found no success there, either. Even when their guards found open looks, nothing seemed to fall for the Wolverines.
No Michigan player connected from long range until junior guard Madison Ristovski hit a triple with 1:54 remaining in the first half. Sophomore guard Siera Thompson made only one of her eight 3-point attempts, and freshman guard Katelynn Flaherty finished just 2-for-8.
The Wolverines’ shooters quickly became frustrated, and they let it show even when they didn’t have possession of the ball.
“When we put our scorers in, they were giving up points on the defensive end, and they weren’t making shots tonight,” Barnes Arico said. “ So that’s what kind of dug us a little bit more of a hole. I think Katelynn — she does get super frustrated and she believes that if she’s not making shots, she’s not contributing.”
The Spartans, on the other hand, used a solid shooting performance to maintain a 20-point lead for most of the game. Guard Lexi Gussert made her first five shots, including four 3-pointers, before she finally missed for the first time midway through the second half.
Barnes Arico made a few adjustments to try to remedy the team’s struggles — she frequently rotated her shooters and even subbed in junior forward Kelsey Mitchell for some extra defensive help — but nothing Michigan tried could slow Michigan State’s momentum.
The loss quelled any chance of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid for the Wolverines, and it denied Michigan a chance to complete a three-game sweep of their in-state rival for the first time in history.