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Aitch, Johnson stars of MSU’s upset win against Duke

March 25, 2009

It is March Madness, but Tuesday night at Breslin Center was much more than an upset win for the MSU women’s basketball team.

It was a drop-your-jaw, did-you-just-see-that, can-you-believe-it 63-49 win over Duke to send the Spartans to the Sweet 16.

“When we come to play, anything can happen, and that’s what we were all just banking on,” said senior guard Mia Johnson, who led the Spartans with 17 points. “Last night we all got together and we just talked about what we wanted to accomplish and by the grace of God we came in here and executed our game plan.”

While Johnson was hitting 3-pointers and controlling the pace of the game, Lauren Aitch came in with an impressive evening on the bench. The junior center had 15 points and six rebounds and constantly kept her team in the game.

With a little more than three minutes left, Aitch took a pass from junior forward Aisha Jefferson and put it in to put MSU up four, 51-47. From that point on, the Spartans outscored the Blue Devils 12-2.

At the postgame press conference, MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said she didn’t know what to say, deflecting the moment to the three players joining her on the dais — Jefferson, Johnson and Aitch.

“It’s their time and all of them played a big part, but none as big as these three right here and that last moment there with those three guys, it was a moment I’ll never forget, and I’m sure they won’t either,” Merchant said. “It was all about what they wanted to accomplish today and sometimes coaching takes a backseat and kids just put things in their own hands and that’s what they did today.”

Break-out star
While Aitch had the game of her life and Johnson extended her career with clutch 3-pointers Tuesday night, another star on the MSU women’s basketball team was born.

Cetera Washington filled the box score with seven points, four rebounds and two assists in her fourth straight start after playing a fairly inconsistent role throughout the season due to her lack of rebounding.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into me these past few games,” said Washington, who scored 12 points Sunday against Middle Tennessee State.

Aside from her scoring, Washington, a 6-foot sophomore forward, also used her length and superior lateral quickness to be a difference maker at the top of MSU’s 1-2-2 halfcourt zone when Merchant implemented it.

When she found herself on the bench during the waning minutes of the game, Washington also brought a fiery attitude, becoming a hybrid combo of coach and cheerleader.

“From the opening tip”
It may be cliché, but it was at that moment both Aitch and Jefferson said the Spartans knew they had a chance to pull the upset.

On the first play of the game, redshirt freshman forward Lykendra Johnson and Duke forward Carrem Gay dove on a loose ball after the tip, causing another jump ball.

“I knew at the beginning they knew we weren’t going to back down and we weren’t just going to roll over,” Jefferson said. “We were in there fighting, getting jump balls and that first play was a jump ball, that’s how we set the tone. Through the whole game and they saw the look in our eyes and I knew that they knew we weren’t there to just play.”

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