Friday, June 21, 2024

Team focusing on itself going into tournament

Junior center Lauren Aitch of MSU women’s basketball talks about the team’s preparations for the Big Ten Tournament and the opportunity to have another shot at opponents they lost to in tough games during the regular season. She also discusses the bracket and the Spartans’ strategy for success in postseason play.

As the MSU women’s basketball team prepares to face Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament today, it has the added bonus of getting an extra day off to watch the other teams play in the opening round. It’s a benefit of capturing the No. 2 seed on Sunday with a 57-55 win over Purdue.

But without knowing who they would face going into today’s game, the team focused its practices on shoring up its own problems before working on another team’s, head coach Suzy Merchant said.

“We’ve really just talked about being about ourselves,” Merchant said. “We’ve worked on some zone offense and we’re prepared for that and obviously some zone defense … everyone that we have or potentially could face is fairly fresh, with the exception of Northwestern.”

The Spartans haven’t had this high of a seed since 2005, when MSU went on to win the tournament and ended up advancing all the way to the national title game, before losing to Baylor. Junior forward Aisha Jefferson was on the 2006 team that went to the Sweet 16, but the Spartans haven’t seen much tournament success since then.

“I haven’t been here in a long time,” Jefferson said. “I never experienced anything like that before. I had the leaders ahead of me who really taught me the importance of details, focus, things like that during this time of year. That’s what I want to be for the younger kids and people who haven’t had as much experience as I have.”

MSU split the games it played against the Badgers this season. MSU beat Wisconsin 59-50 on Jan. 25 in East Lansing, and then unceremoniously dropped the ball Feb. 22 in Madison, losing the game 54-51 and losing its spot atop the conference.

The players were glad to see they got a shot at redeeming themselves against Wisconsin.

“That’s a game we want to get back,” junior center Lauren Aitch said. “This game is going to be a big deal for us just because it kind of messed our little pace up for the Big Ten Championship.”

In the last game the Spartans played against Purdue, that heart and determination seemed to come out more, Merchant said, something the team has worked on to prepare for the postseason.

“If you’re going to beat Ohio State or Purdue, or all of the top teams, it takes extra effort,” Merchant said. “Games are a lot of times won by loose balls and getting your hand on something, or keeping the ball alive, things that don’t really count in a stat sheet per se. … We really talked a lot about making our own breaks and that’s how you do it, loose balls and charges and things like that.”

The momentum from that win has got the Spartans talking championship, something many of the players feel they could have gotten in the regular season.

“We have a lot of potential,” Jefferson said. “We’re a deep team and we’ve beaten everybody in the Big Ten before, even though we lost twice this year to Minnesota. We’re capable of winning. Everyone just needs to keep confident.”

Even as the women approach a potential Big Ten Tournament championship, Merchant found time to congratulate the men’s team, which won the outright regular season conference title on Tuesday.

“People don’t understand how hard it is to accomplish that feat,” Merchant said. “Especially when you sit in that head coach’s chair, there’s just so much that goes into it. It’s challenging … I really wanted to be there, just to be part of that success.

“It was just really great to see them come out on top.”

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