Sunday, March 26, 2023

Team prepares for Sweet 16, focuses on defense

The MSU women’s basketball team talks about preparing for its game Saturday against Iowa State in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in Berkeley, Calif. Head coach Suzy Merchant also talks about a conversation she had with men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo asking how to prepare for the next level of competition.

The MSU women’s basketball team got one last practice in Wednesday before it left for Berkeley, Calif., to meet Iowa State in the Sweet 16 on Saturday.

The Cyclones, who are 26-8 on the season and finished in third place in the Big 12 with an 11-5 conference record, are very guard-oriented and remind the Spartans a lot of Middle Tennessee State, the team MSU beat in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“You can see that (the 3-point shot) is a big part of their offense; it’s 42 percent of their offense,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “The difference is these guys are amazing at getting them off screens. It’s a totally different attack than Middle Tennessee State. Their stuff comes off great screens and rescreens and they’re very heady, very smart players. It can become a pinball machine out there if you let yourself.”

Similar to Middle Tennessee, the Cyclones average hitting more than eight 3-pointers per game and are shooting 35.1 percent from behind the arc.

“We know Iowa State can put it on the floor a bit more (than Middle Tennessee),” sophomore forward Cetera Washington said. “So, we’ll have to guard the dribble drive but also take away their three ball — that’ll be huge.”

The Spartans defended Middle Tennessee’s offensive attack fairly well, holding the Blue Raiders to only five threes and 29.4 percent shooting from behind the arc. MSU is seventh in the nation in 3-point defense and tied for third in total defense, allowing opponents to only shoot 34.2 percent from the field.

The Spartans have ridden their strong defense into the NCAA Tournament, holding Middle Tennessee to 40 percent shooting for the game and Duke to only 26.9 percent shooting, often bothering the opposing teams with their distinct size advantage inside.

A key for that defense in the tournament has been MSU junior center Allyssa DeHaan, who has been a monster defensively around the basket, with 10 blocks in the last two games and countless more effected shots, using her height to keep opponents out of the paint.

“I haven’t seen another 6-foot-9 kid on the roster yet in the nation,” DeHaan said. “So it is a little bit of a different look, but I credit that to our team defense as a whole. Our post defense was really on last game. I think we’re just really intimidating as a bench.”

MSU also has gotten a boost in play from senior guard Mia Johnson, who scored a season-high 17 points against Duke and only had one turnover, a problem MSU has dealt with as a team all season.

“I just really struggled throughout the season with my confidence,” Johnson said. “Since I’ve been at that point guard position my confidence has been building back to wanting to do things and wanting to be out there. So good things are just happening.”

The Spartans’ contest against Iowa State tips off at 9 p.m. Saturday and will be aired nationally on ESPN.

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