The Michigan women’s basketball team has been hot recently.
After upsetting then-No. 8 Ohio State in Columbus last week, the Wolverines returned home and pounded Illinois, 86-42, Saturday night. Against the Fighting Illini, Michigan was firing on all cylinders. The offense was energized, led by senior guard Katelynn Flaherty who tallied 27 points and averages 23.1 per contest. Freshman forward Hailey Brown also shined, finishing with 17 points and 14 rebounds for her third career double-double.
On Tuesday, Michigan State (4-3 Big Ten, 14-6 overall) looks to dethrone the sixteenth-ranked Wolverines (6-2, 17-4) at Crisler Center.
The Spartans return four starters from a 2017 squad that qualified for the NCAA Tournament and finished 21-12. This season, though, they have not had the same success, in part because last season’s leading scorer, Tori Jankoska, graduated. Jankoska scored 28 and 14 points in her two matchups with Michigan last season, respectively.
Due to injuries, Michigan State has had eight different starting lineups already. The Spartans currently stand at eighth in the Big Ten, and are coming off a 69-65 loss against a below-average Indiana team.
Regardless of Michigan State’s record, the matchup is a rivalry game, and the Wolverines are well aware that anything can happen.
“They’re always tough,” Flaherty said after defeating Illinois. “No matter if they’re the best in the league, last in the league they always come out, they’re ready, they scout us. They have a great game plan against us every single year.”
The Spartans’ offense has had some signature performances this year. The team has reached triple digits twice this season and averages 71.1 points per game. Guards Shay Colley and Branndais Agee, as well as center Jenna Allen lead the pack, averaging 11.5, 10.9 and 10.1 points per game, respectively.
But Michigan State’s offense will be tested Tuesday. Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico’s team has found defensive success throughout the season, and held the Fighting Illini to just four points in the third quarter of the last contest.
Due to some offensive struggles, Michigan has had to rely on its defense in the past. The Wolverines average 16.5 turnovers per game and often have trouble settling in. Although the offense has been improving, it will need to value each possession against the Spartans. Brown has been making strides — shooting at least 50 percent from the field in her last six games — so her contributions will be essential to the team.
Though Michigan appears to have the upper hand, history indicates otherwise. The Wolverines have only won three of the 14 meetings against Michigan State and lost both matchups last season. The first of those losses was their sole home loss of the season, while the second eliminated them from the Big Ten tournament during the first round. Those two defeats were part of a bad final stretch that left Michigan out of the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s been tough the past couple years for us,” Flaherty said.
The Wolverines look to continue building momentum, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Spartans cause troubles once again. The stakes will be high, that’s for sure.
“They come in every single year ready to go,” Flaherty said. “It seems like a national championship every single time we play them, just cause you really wanna win that game.”