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Nothing coming easy for MSU, set to battle No. 5 Irish

November 18, 2009

Only two games into the season, the No. 21 MSU women’s basketball team already has seen its fair share of adversity.

After a season-opening loss to Dayton on Friday, the Spartans battled against Detroit and walked away with a 71-60 win.

Following two tough games on the road, head coach Suzy Merchant hasn’t scheduled a cupcake for tonight’s home opener. Instead, her squad gets No. 5 Notre Dame.

The game is the first of three games against teams currently in the top 10. The Spartans also host No. 4 North Carolina on Dec. 3 and No. 9 Xavier on Dec. 9.

Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Breslin Center.

“We have a lot of tough games,” Merchant said. “We have the No. 1 strength of schedule in the league and it’s tough. Thankfully, some of these games are at home, which is a positive. We were on the road quite a bit last year. We started out on the road this year, so it’s going to be good to get back here in the confines of Breslin and challenge ourselves.”

MSU has entered both its games this season with a second half deficit. MSU was able to use its depth to tire out Detroit on Sunday, but couldn’t do the same to Dayton on Friday.

“Obviously, we didn’t play up to our potential,” junior forward Cetera Washington said of the first weekend. “We’ve learned some things on film that we need to work on and we’ve been getting after it in practice.”

The Spartans have won four straight games against ranked opponents at Breslin, dating back to a 60-53 win against Ohio State on Dec. 30, 2007. But this will be the first time the Spartans have ever hosted a top-5 nonconference opponent at Breslin.

Last season in South Bend, Ind., the Fighting Irish came away with a 78-72 victory thanks to 18 points in 20 minutes from then-freshman forward Kellie Watson (Ionia, Mich.), who hit 6-of-9 tries from behind the 3-point line off the bench. The 18 points remain a career high.

“She extends your defense, there’s no question about it,” Merchant said.

“I don’t think we did a great job getting out to her, but part of that is because they have other players inside you were worried about. It’s a credit to them and their versatility and what they can do.”

Merchant said after a shaky practice Tuesday following an off-day Monday, the team responded Wednesday. Washington called it a “very productive” day.

But to get things going against the Irish, the Spartans will need senior center Allyssa DeHaan to play well. Through two games, she is averaging eight points and five rebounds a game.

“I feel like she’s at a point now where we need her to start getting a little nasty out there and get mean and just enough is enough,” Merchant said. “Every team plays her the same way, she knows it and she has to choose to take advantage of her height and she can. She needs to really do a good job at both ends being a force for us.”

Getting DeHaan going more on the boards is one part of an overall team goal to crash the boards better.

“We know they’re a great rebounding team,” Washington said. “We’ve been outrebounded a few times and we’ve outrebounded (other teams), but not by the margin we wanted to. We really just have to get into their body and push them back because we know they’re a beast on rebounds.”

On the injury front for the Spartans, sophomore forward Courtney Schiffauer is questionable for tonight’s game. Merchant said she is “banged up.” If Schiffauer can’t go, it will be a blow for the Spartans, as Schiffauer has come out of the gates as the team’s leading scorer, averaging 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds through two games, including hitting 8-of-13 from behind the long line.

“We’re not sure what’s going to happened there (tonight), so we’ll see,” Merchant said.

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