As soon as she heard the question, asking to sum up a week that saw two of her top players lost for the season with major injuries, Suzy Merchant sighed, closed her eyes and shook her head.
“It was a rough week. It was probably the roughest week I’ve had in a long time,” Merchant said.
“I mean, you look at the bench and you see five of your top eight or nine kids sitting there, and probably four potential starters. … I’ve had an injury, but I’ve never had a team that’s had this many people out that are kids that can really play and do some things and bring energy.”
The MSU women’s basketball team has spent the week recuperating, physically and emotionally, from the news of freshman guard Aerial Powers’ torn Achilles and sophomore center Madison Williams’ torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, that will sideline both players for the entire 2012-13 season.
The Spartans already were without the services of talented freshman guard Branndais Agee, who is recovering from foot surgery, and sophomore guard Kiana Johnson, an all-conference performer as a freshman, who’s suspended nine games for violating NCAA rules, among other players missing time.
It’s left the Spartans with a limited bench, with seven players playing 15 minutes or more in the team’s 83-36 win over Grand Valley State in Sunday’s exhibition finale, with senior guard Jasmine Thomas playing 37 minutes and junior guard Klarissa Bell totalling 36 minutes.
Thomas said after a week of setbacks, it’s important for the players who are able to play to bond together.
“(It’s) definitely disappointing knowing that we won’t have two of our key players out there on the floor with us, but with the people we did have, it was kind of like we needed to unify and unite together,” Thomas said.
“It’s sad that they’re hurt, but time is still moving on, (and) we have to move on as well. We’re still there for them, nothing’s changed, we haven’t done anything different, but it’s a mentality that (we’re) all (we’ve) got and we gotta play through it.”
Thomas was one of six Spartans to score in double figures Sunday, finishing with 15 points, five rebounds and three steals, trailing only Jasmine Hines in scoring after the sophomore center tallied 16 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
Hines said a number of players are “dead tired,” due to the team’s limited depth, but that Merchant implored the group at the pregame shootaround to push through it.
“This week has been really up and down, obviously, with the injuries and people having to step up and play a lot more minutes than they thought they’d be,” Hines said.
“So everyone’s sore, we’re tired, but we all just have to fight through that.”
Merchant said the one thing the injuries have done is provide opportunities for players, such as junior forward Annalise Pickrel, who have been complementary players in years past, searching for a bigger role.
Pickrel finished with 12 points and six rebounds and said the early-season adversity already has made the team stronger.
“(We’re going) to really mold together and just be that nasty team that nobody wants to play,” Pickrel said.
“This past week has been more emotionally draining, but now that we’re starting to play and mesh together, it’s very motivational. … We don’t want people feeling sorry for us. There’s so many teams that have this problem, so we’re not helpless or anything. Really, that just gives us fire, it really does.”