Saturday, February 24, 2024

Setting the pace key to NCAA advance

Senior guard Mia Johnson cheers for the MSU women’s basketball team Friday playing against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind. on Friday.

Photo by Gabrielle Moore | The State News

Preparing to face the nation’s leading scorer and a team that loves to push the ball, the MSU women’s basketball team has had only one thing on its mind this week — transition.

“We’ve been running transition,” junior center Allyssa DeHaan said. “We practice that three times a day, every day. I think that’s a big key to us being successful offensively.”

The point of moving the ball in transition is to force the tempo and keep Middle Tennessee State out of rhythm, a team that likes to move the ball down the floor and press on defense.

The Blue Raiders, the Sun Belt champion, gets much of its scoring through forward Alysha Clark, who leads the nation averaging 27.3 points per game, but have gotten major contributions through the rest of the team as well.

“You can look at Clark and say, ‘How do you stop her?’” MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said. “She’s just so talented and can score so many different ways. But what I think people have to realize is what they also put around her, and those kids can really shoot the basketball.”

Middle Tennessee averages the second-most 3-pointers per game in the nation, making 8.8 per game, but also can hit them with accuracy, shooting 36.4 percent as a team from behind the arc. When there’s a post player like Clark inside, it only opens up the offense even more, Merchant said.

“They can score in bunches,” Merchant said. “If you watch them, it’s a two-point game and within a minute and a half it can be an 11-point game off three possessions. That can be pretty intimidating.”

The Blue Raiders also try to force turnovers through pressure and have averaged 11.2 steals per game on the season, something that could be an issue for a Spartans team without a true point guard to handle the ball.

“They’ve got a couple different looks that they can go and they’re very handsy and cover a lot of ground,” Merchant said.

“They can really cover space and sometimes they trap you up the sideline. Sometimes it’s guard to guard. Sometimes it’s sort of a softer press. So they really keep you guessing, and I think that lends itself to some struggles on the offensive end.”

One advantage the Spartans have against Clark and Middle Tennessee is their size, something that senior guard Mia Johnson said MSU will try to exploit to the fullest advantage. While Clark puts up big points, she stands only 5-foot-10 and will be marked by 6-foot-9 DeHaan.

“We hope that will play a part, anytime you got a bigger team,” Johnson said. “We’re definitely agile. We’re athletic, we’re just not bigger. We are big, we can move. Being that extra mobility and being able to get up and down, it’s going to be an interesting game.”

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