On a day honoring the loss of North Carolina State women’s basketball coach Kay Yow and her bout with breast cancer, the MSU women’s basketball team’s 59-50 victory against Wisconsin couldn’t have been more of a fight.
The Spartans (14-6 overall, 7-2 Big Ten) donned pink T-shirts as the crowd of 10,489 at Breslin Center held a moment of silence for the legendary coach.
“She kind of paved the way for so many young women to run out into a stadium full of 10,000 fans,” MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said. “She really built women’s basketball … to what it is now. So we talked a lot about that, especially in the second half, that we need to come out with some enthusiasm and toughness.”
Defense was key from the start, with both teams fighting to get an advantage.
Wisconsin (14-7, 4-6), having trouble with the length of the Spartans, didn’t start 5-foot-3-inch guard Rae Lin D’Alie and were noticeably slowed on the offensive end.
MSU used the mismatches on offense to open up an eight-point lead, consistently getting the ball into the post for easy layups.
“Their size is certainly something that is a great asset to them,” Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone said. “I thought our kids fought. They played hard and defensively did a very nice job on the glass.”
The Spartans weren’t able to pull away though, as Wisconsin was able to find its rhythm in the closing minutes of the first half, fighting back to within one when Tara Steinbauer got an easy layup off an offensive rebound.
But MSU sophomore guard Brittney Thomas answered with a 3-pointer putting the Spartans up 24-21 heading into the break.
After halftime, the Spartans took initiative again, jumping out to a 48-38 lead, behind the strong play of freshman forward Lykendra Johnson.
Johnson finished with a career-high 14 points and four rebounds, her second straight game scoring in double figures.
“Every game there’s always a mismatch somewhere,” Johnson said. “It just so happens that today it was on me, so I took advantage of that.”
The Badgers kept fighting, pulling back to with two as Mariah Dunham got hot from behind the arc, draining two straight threes to pull Wisconsin within a shot of the lead.
Again, the Spartans were able to answer with a dagger of their own. With a minute remaining, junior center Allyssa DeHaan hit a hook shot from the right block that put MSU back up 55-50.
That was when the MSU defense locked down, forcing Wisconsin into three turnovers in the last minute, effectively ending any chance the Badgers had to come back. MSU would extend the lead with free throws, forcing one last turnover and running out the clock on the 59-50 win.
“I feel we’re starting to get into a better rhythm at times,” Merchant said. “We have confidence with each other and are playing with each other.”