The MSU women’s basketball players boarded their flight to College Park, Md., yesterday with three letters on their mind: WTW.
The acronym, which stands for Win The Weekend, is head coach Suzy Merchant’s creation, designed to inspire confidence as the No. 5-seeded Spartans take on the No. 12-seeded Marist in the first round 1:30 p.m. tomorrow on ESPN2.
In the first-ever meeting between the two programs, the Spartans head to the East Coast confident but not to the point of arrogance.
“I don’t think any of us are going to look past them at all,” Klarissa Bell said. “Watching them on film, they’re a good team. They take away the dribble drive, so I think that’s something that we haven’t seen.”
Perhaps more than any other player, it’s Bell that is most anxious to return to the hardwood. The junior guard failed to hit a shot from the field in the final two rounds of the Big Ten Tournament, scoring a total of three points in both games.
The short-handed Spartans enjoyed a valuable week of rest after the tournament while they awaited their NCAA Tournamentassignment.
“That time could have been taken either way,” Bell said of the down time, adding that her body felt fatigued after the conference tournament.
“It could have been bad, or it could have been good. And I think that for me, personally, it was a good thing. And I’m sure for a lot of other people it was too.”
In Marist, the Spartans will face a quick, smaller team that runs a motion offense relying on screening, cutting and re-screening. A dominant team in their respective conference, the Red Foxes won’t be intimidated by a program such as MSU.
“We’re a mid-major team, so we kind of go out there with nothing to lose … you never know what can happen,” Marist guard Casey Dulin said.
Sophomore post players Jasmine Hines and Becca Mills could have a big game against the guard-centric Red Foxes with their height advantage in the paint. Marist’s tallest active player is 6-foot-2 forward Elizabeth Beynnon.
If MSU plans to win the weekend, it must be sharper on offense than it showed down the stretch of the season. That means more production from Bell on that side of the floor, as well as junior forward Annalise Pickrel, picking up her scoring.
Like Bell, Pickrel had a few disappointing outings in the Big Ten Tournament. And like Bell, the Spartans’ offense is noticeably more productive when both of them play well. Pickrel specifically could pose problems for Marist with her ability to shoot behind the arc as well as score in the block with her 6-foot-3 frame.
“Going into the NCAA (Tournament), my mindset’s just a little different,” Pickrel said. “You know what, if my shot’s not going up, then I am going to make sure that I am still a presence on the court by rebounding and defense and stuff like that.”
The Spartans lost to Louisville last season in the first round in the same building they will play at this weekend. MSU players weren’t convinced slight familiarity with the arena was a significant advantage.
“We have really good chances,” Bell said. “Our defense this year has really allowed us to beat good teams, different types of teams, different types of offenses. … That’s going to be a key for us in this run.”