Monday, September 20, 2021

Great season should not be overlooked

March 24, 2011

Anthony Odoardi

I know what the so-called experts are saying about the MSU women’s basketball team. They’re talking about how the team choked in the second round again. How in one of their most successful seasons, went winless in three games against their rival Buckeyes. And how Ohio State advanced further than MSU in the Big Dance.

Ohio State is king — or in this case queen — of the Big Ten once again, and every “expert” is declaring he or she “told you so” to Big Ten fans who hoped to see the Buckeyes finally knocked off their throne by the Spartans.

But honestly, who cares what the experts say. In the end, the Spartans might not be the more successful team in the conference this year.

In several ways, the ladies made an impact in the Big Ten and at home in East Lansing that put them — at the very least — on the same level playing field as Ohio State.

Although the season certainly ended in disappointment, there should be no resentment toward the Spartans, who in a year where the men’s team hit a rough patch, welcomed all Spartan faithful to hop on the bandwagon and continue enjoying basketball success.

The team was outplayed in almost every aspect of what proved to be its final game of the season Tuesday night in a 65-56 loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay. But one game doesn’t define a season and neither does the NCAA Tournament.

A team such as Northern Iowa, which the Spartans beat Sunday night, surely is upset about its loss. However, the Panthers pulled off a 19-game winning streak and won the Missouri Valley Conference. Do you really think they’re proclaiming their season a bust?

In East Lansing, there’s a lot to be proud of about the women’s basketball team’s season, and if you’ve been following the team this season I shouldn’t have to tell you that.

For the first time in the history of the program, the Spartans won the Big Ten title outright. In the 38-year history of the program, no MSU team could accomplish such a feat, even the 2005 runners-up to the National Championship.

The Spartans stole the title from the five-time defending champion Buckeyes and reigned alone as the best Big Ten team in the 2010-11 regular season. This reason alone should be enough for MSU fans to pick themselves up.

Only once in history has a Spartan been named Big Ten Player of the Year, and that honor went this year to senior forward Kalisha Keane.

The coaches decided that Keane, not the three-time Player of the Year, Ohio State’s Jantel Lavender — who was having her best season yet — was most deserving of the award.

But we can’t stop there. Junior forward Lykendra Johnson was named the conference’s best defensive player and MSU head coach Suzy Merchant the best coach.

They gave it their all, each and every game. And as clichéd as it sounds, they literally left blood, sweat and tears on the floor after each contest. Even as they were being beaten down by Green Bay, they clawed back. A lot of teams would have given up, but a team led by Merchant, Keane or any of the class of 2011? Are you kidding?

The senior class set out to establish a “new” identity as a team that hustles and at the end of each game will leave you exhausted from how hard they play on both ends of the floor.

That commitment and that energy is why fans fell in love with this team. It also led to women’s basketball officially selling out Breslin Center for the first time. A packed house of 14,797 fans watched MSU drop Michigan on Feb. 13.

While you contemplate how close the Buckeyes and Spartans will be in following years, consider this. MSU will return two starters in Johnson and junior forward Taylor Alton. They will also welcome back, from injury, a 6-foot-7 McDonald’s All-American in redshirt freshman center Madison Williams. Junior guard Porsche Poole peaked at the end of the season and looks ready for next year. They have potential to be an elite team.

But that’s not to say they won’t be losing a lot. Seniors Brittney Thomas, Cetera Washington and Keane aren’t just talented, but they’re ultimate leaders. I honestly couldn’t write enough words to describe their impact on the MSU program.

Are they the best senior class ever? I’m in no position to say. I won’t touch that subject. I’ll leave that debate for the fans who know the team much better than I do.

But if I may, in the Auxiliary Gym there are wall-size banners of the lady Spartans who have had the most lasting effects on the program hanging on the wall. If it were up to me, Keane, Thomas and Washington would join alongside each other to look forever over their teammates and make sure they never forget to play the game with passion and energy.

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Anthony Odoardi is a State News sports reporter. He can be reached at odoardia@msu.edu.

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