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Wisconsin's defense key in rubber match

March 6, 2009

A Wisconsin player yells as she struggles to keep the ball away from junior center Lauren Aitch and sophomore forward Cetera Washington at the women’s basketball game against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Friday

Indianapolis — In the ever-important rubber match, the MSU women’s basketball team fell short in the most important of the three games.

On the rare occasion that two teams meet three times in one season, Wisconsin’s defensive pressure in the post and in the passing lanes stifled MSU’s offensive sets in a defensive effort, Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone talked about like a trademark.

“Our post defense was outstanding,” Stone said. “I thought (junior guard) Rae Lin D’Alie was unbelievable up on the ball. Our gap defense was very, very stellar and everybody did what they had do to.”

D’Alie, who played only 15 minutes against the Spartans in their first meeting in East Lansing but 39 in teams’ second meeting in Madison, was disrupted the Spartans’ offensive rhythm and ability to bring the ball up the floor. She had 10 points, eight rebounds, six steals and two assists in 34 minutes of play.

“They did a great job of pressuring us and we didn’t handle it,” MSU coach Suzy Merchant said. “That was the story of the game. I certainly felt like we had our opportunities but they rattled every guard we put out there, which caused our inability to get the ball inside as well.”

In the post, Wisconsin forwards Tara Steinbauer and Lin Zastrow combined for 26 points and 11 rebounds, while limiting MSU junior center Allyssa DeHaan’s impact on the game on the offensive end. The Badgers’ physicality inside prevented the Spartans from getting good looks and high percentage shots around the basket late in the second half when MSU needed to make a push.

“We knew coming in that Wisconsin was a physical team,” DeHaan said. “The offenses that we practiced the last couple plays helped our post get open and get closer to the rim. I think it was just mental toughness that didn’t allow us to get where we wanted to go.”

Stepping out
For a team that doesn’t typically rely on the 3-point ball much at all, the Spartans received some long-distance contribution from the unlikeliest of sources.

Three of the tallest girls on the floor for MSU — 6-foot-9 junior center Allyssa DeHaan, 6-foot-1 freshman forward Lykendra Johnson and 6-foot-1 sophomore forward Kalisha Keane — accounted for all three of the Spartans made deep balls. DeHaan and Johnson had combined for four baskets behind the arc all season, while Keane had made 13.

Senior guard Mia Johnson, who leads the team in 3-point field goal attempts, was 0-for-3 in the game.

Keane hit the first 3-pointer of the game for MSU at the 9:02 mark in the first half before DeHaan soon followed suit with her own shot from the top of the arc at 7:29 to give MSU a 21-9 advantage.

The Spartans averaged 3.4 3-pointers per game going into Friday’s contest.

“Because we have such a skilled team, that skill set is an advantage for us with Al being able to pull — being able to step us and knock down those shots is a huge advantage,” Keane said.

Late impact
Finding themselves down 49-40 with just over four minutes to go in the game, two Spartans emerged and gave their team one last desperate shot at pulling out a comeback.

Junior forward Aisha Jefferson and freshman forward Lykendra Johnson accounted for all but two of MSU’s 17 points in the final 12 minutes of the game and were almost entirely responsible for narrowing the Badgers lead to three with 1:12 remaining.

Jefferson had a game-high 15 points on the day, while Johnson added 12
— nearly doubling her season average. The most impressive two points for the freshman came when Johnson laid in a reverse shot off an in-bounds play, bringing the Spartans within five with 6:13 to go.

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