A team often evolves during a season, turning into something completely different than it was at the beginning of the year.
We’ve seen this play out with both basketball teams on campus this season. The MSU men’s basketball team has seemingly hit a free fall. Meanwhile, the MSU women’s basketball team is hitting its stride and looks primed to make a run in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
The Spartans have won 8-of-9 games and have the opportunity to lock up the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament with a win against Purdue on Thursday.
It’s been clear as day that the team, always close off the court, has grown together on it.
The Spartans have gotten back to playing air-tight defense, and more importantly, team basketball.
In November, senior center Lauren Aitch said after the team’s win against Detroit Mercy that MSU was afraid to lose, and the expectations the team faced — No. 10 preseason ranking, including being ranked No. 4 on the cover of Sports Illustrated — were weighing on the Spartans.
The three-game losing streak sent the Spartans out of the polls and might have eliminated some pressure. Now the team has climbed back into the ESPN/USA Today poll at No. 25 following several weeks being unranked.
At this point, the number really doesn’t matter.
After losing games they shouldn’t to start and going on a three-game losing streak in January, something changed. The team banded together — led by its upperclassmen — to go on this roll. MSU is playing its best basketball and peaking just in time for postseason play.
We saw the damage this team is capable of Sunday against Ohio State. The Spartans picked up their third win against a top-10 team this season with an inspired and gutsy effort in front of a hostile crowd. The team still lost focus on a few occasions, and that will need to be corrected, but for most of the game, MSU took it to the Buckeyes and came back both late in regulation and overtime to close out the game.
It was team basketball.
Outside of the defense, the team’s balanced scoring (and depth) has been its biggest boon.
In MSU’s eight wins during this streak, five different players have either led the team in scoring or tied for the team lead. Junior forward Kalisha Keane has seen the list the most, leading the team three times in the span. Junior guard Brittney Thomas has done it twice, as has senior center Allyssa DeHaan.
Although it’s nice to have a superstar that can be relied in night-in and night-out, MSU’s ability to spread its scoring around is paying dividends as other teams can’t just key in to stop one scorer. Even if an opponent shuts down one scoring style — the 3-pointer for example — the Spartans still have a multitude of drivers and mid-range jump shooters to get the job done.
The big test will be Thursday against Purdue. MSU beat the Boilermakers, 72-54, a little more than a month ago to start this current
It’ll be Senior Night at Mackey Arena, and Purdue no doubt will want to atone for its baffling loss to last-place Illinois on Sunday. The Spartans will need a strong showing and play with the sense of urgency it takes to defeat a good team on senior night and clinch that important No. 2 seed.
There is no doubt defense wins championships. That’s why this team, should it continue to play at this level, will be a forced to reckoned with come March.
Matt Bishop is the State News women’s basketball reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com.