A giant challenge awaits the No. 25 MSU women’s basketball team today in Waco, Texas.
Six-foot-8 All-American center Brittney Griner and the No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears are licking their chops, upset after officiating arguably prevented them from becoming the first team to knock off No. 1 Connecticut in 79 consecutive games Tuesday night. Now, Griner and the rest of Baylor will look to get back on track against the Spartans.
“(Griner’s) just a force to be reckoned with,” MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said.
However, Merchant and the Spartans (2-0) believe they are ready for the rematch of the 2005 NCAA Tournament final, a game in which the Spartans fell, 84-62, and Baylor secured its first national championship.
“I think our players are really looking forward to the challenge, I really do,” Merchant said. “I think they know they’re going to have a heck of a fight. That’s a good team.”
Only nine times in the program’s history have the Spartans played the No. 2 ranked team in the country, and their record stands at 1-8.
The odds seem stacked against MSU, who not only will travel on the road for the first time this season, but will be without 6-foot-7 freshman center Madison Williams, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament Oct. 31. Williams is a player who certainly could have been a crucial element in game planning around Griner, Merchant said.
“I think (the team is) disappointed that we can’t go down there with our 6-(foot-)7 McDonald’s All-American and just have a fun little battle,” Merchant said. “I mean, how often does that happen in women’s basketball when you can see a 6-(foot-)7 (and) 6-(foot-)8 girl go at each other. But at the same time, I think our kids are kind of prepared for that, and they moved on, and they’re going to give it their best shot.”
Junior forward Lykendra Johnson has taken on the role of center with the heralded recruit sidelined, although Merchant said the responsibility of playing Griner won’t fall on Johnson’s shoulders alone.
“No, that’s a team thing,” Merchant said. “Just like it was with UConn, they had three and four kids (cover Griner) to the point where I think they went to the last kid on the bench.”
After getting into foul trouble in the first two games, Johnson said she knows she needs to change some of her bad habits.
“In the last game, I saw they had quite a few runs when I was on the bench,” she said. “(Freshman guard Annalise Pickrel) came in, and she contributed well. This will be big. I have to stay out of foul trouble — it’s a must.”
Under the rim, Griner leads the nation with 21 blocks and had nine in Baylor’s game against UConn. The Spartans have 18 blocks as a team.
Fortunately for the Spartans, their biggest advantage might be their ability to shoot the jumper. In two games this season, the team has shot nearly 50 percent from behind the arc, and if the team catches fire, it could open up opportunities inside.
Senior forward Kalisha Keane, last season’s Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year, is averaging 16.5 points per game and will be needed to score. The senior said she watched the Baylor-UConn game with senior guard Brittney Thomas and found some techniques they might be able to use.
“It was a good competition. I mean, it kind of gave us an idea of what they’re going to do offensively and defensively and kind of learning from them, UConn, to see what we could do,” Keane said.
The game will serve as a great test to see where the Spartans are this early in the season. Keane said she feels the Spartans are able to compete with the top teams in the nation.
“We work very hard, and we’ve been battle tested for the last few years,” Keane said. “I like our senior class and our leadership, so I’m pretty excited about going down there.”
Merchant refused to comment on how the team will play Griner, however with her shooting 58 percent from the free-throw line, the coach said they won’t be nervous to make smart fouls.
“I just think she’s kind of
Shaquille O’Neal-like in that way,” Merchant said. “You have to do some things to her to try and deter her from getting the ball so easily, but you’re going to get some foul calls. You just gotta, you know, make sure that they’re the right calls at the right time and that you can play extended minutes.”
Share and discuss “Spartans prepared for battle with Griner, No. 2 Lady Bears” on social media.