MSU women's basketball embarks on journey to Big Ten Tournament
The MSU women’s basketball team wrapped up the regular season with a 19-10 overall record and enters the postseason a No. 6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Spartans will have a first round bye and will play the No. 11 seed University of Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Badgers finished the regular season 8-21 overall and 3-13 in the conference.
After a thrilling comeback victory over Penn State University on Senior Night Feb. 22, the Spartans went on the road to conclude the regular season, but fell in overtime to Nebraska, the No. 13 seed in the tournament.
“We were obviously very disappointed,” associate head coach Amaka Agugua said. “I think we have a young team and kids need to mature and know what’s at stake and that we’re playing for March and just a sense of urgency, I believe. But the thing is, you can’t dwell on it too much.”
Agugua said with nothing guaranteed in the postseason, the team will have to bounce back to earn a bid for the tournament crown.
“Now, nothing’s promised and we’ve got to go out and earn our keep and earn the right to play another day,” Agugua said. “I think the mindset in the locker room is we’ve got to get over that loss, we got to learn from it, get better, we’ve got to get more serious with our preparation and get ready to go make a run in the tournament.”
Agugua said it’s key for the team’s veterans to step up and guide the younger players to have success in the postseason.
“We’ve got to be serious (about practice) because before the Nebraska game, I think all of the young kids weren’t as focused as they needed to be, so we put it on our veterans to take ownership of the team and we’ve got to prepare,” Agugua said. “When you prepare for the tournament, you don’t necessarily know who you’re going to be playing. It’s just a possibility, you might be playing one team and the other one might upset them or whatever, we’ve got to be better at the things we do defensively, our principles, our fundamentals and sharing the ball offensively because that’s (where) we’ve been successful this season.”
The Spartans completed the regular season with a 9-7 Big Ten record and outscored their conference opponents by an average of 76.1-69.9 per game.
MSU isn’t a sure lock for the NCAA Tournament, so Agugua said the team is looking at the Big Ten Tournament as a make or break situation to secure a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“We kind of made our path a little bit harder,” Agugua said. “We didn’t control our own destiny. We’ve been a very up and down team, so we’re approaching it that way. We have to do well in the tournament.”
A huge part of MSU’s performance this season has been its inconsistency, which is one area Agugua said the team will look to improve.
“We have to prove to the NCAA committee and prove to people what kind of team we are trying to be, what kind of team we’ve become and we have to do that with some consistency,” Agugua said. “I think our inconsistency has been kind of like our Achilles heel. We’ll be great and the next game, we can be a lot different. So I just think being consistent and just approaching this like we have to do well in the Big Ten Tournament in order to get in the NCAA no matter what. That may not be the case, but that’s the way we’re approaching it.”
The Spartans’ lone senior, guard Tori Jankoska, enters the Big Ten Tournament with an MSU record 2,119 points and 3-point field goals with 305.
The 5-foot-8 guard was named a unanimous First-Team All-Big Ten selection on Monday. She has 653 points so far this season, 44 points away from breaking the record of 697 points in a season set by former MSU forward Aerial Powers.
Agugua said the types of shots Jankoska has been hitting have been an important factor in the team’s success this season.
“She’s always been a shooter and a scorer, but the types of shots she’s hitting now are insane really, and she’s been very clutch for us and kept us in numerous games this season,” Agugua said.
The associate head coach said Jankoska’s leadership has changed immensely and will be vital to MSU’s success in the Big Ten Tournament.
“I think where she’s evolved the most is her leadership on and off the court and just being more vocal and also distributing the ball,” Agugua said. “She’s always been someone that can pass the ball and get people involved, but now, especially because she draws so much attention, she’s setting other people up and we’re getting more people in double figures, and that’s helping us win some games down the stretch here.”