Wichita, Kan. — It was as if senior forward Kalisha Keane and the No. 4 seed MSU women’s basketball team wanted it too much.
More than anything they wanted to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. They remembered the sting of losing to Kentucky in the second round last year. Without a doubt, it left a mark and they wanted to rid themselves of that feeling this year.
But nothing went their way from the start of the game.
The defense of No. 5 seed Wisconsin-Green Bay was overwhelming. Three players would swarm whichever Spartan had the ball, and they were relentless.
I expected them to get tired, slow down and maybe make a few mistakes, but they didn’t do any of the above. They continued to press for the entire first half and it caused fits for the Spartans.
They were without an offense, committing turnover after turnover. Some were forced by Green Bay, but most the result of mental lapses on MSU’s part.
Keane, who usually is flawless, was forcing passes to junior forward Lykendra Johnson that just weren’t there. Johnson was double – and at times triple – covered.
On top of that, Keane couldn’t buy a bucket. She was 1-for-7 from the field in the first half. The Big Ten Player of the Year was worn down, frustrated and even uncharacteristically forcing up bad shots.
When the ball did go inside to Johnson, the Defensive Player of the Year was missing open layups that were crucial in this close of a game.
But they still had that Spartan spirit and toughness that has carried MSU this season.
However, on Tuesday night, it wasn’t enough.
Keane fought, never giving up, and helped her team chew away at that 12-point halftime deficit. She single-handedly put together a 7-0 run, scoring five points and finding a wide-open Johnson under the basket to cut the Phoenix lead to three.
By the time her team rallied around her, they had dug themselves too deep a hole from which to climb out. The buzzer echoed through the arena and the wrong color of green stood up to celebrate the victory.
The Phoenix danced at midcourt, doing the hokey pokey. Keane left the court in tears.
She was a warrior and the whole team proved once again they were warriors. It was a four-point game in the final seconds and any Spartan fan watching was immediately having flashbacks to the men’s game against UCLA when the Phoenix missed four free throws in the final minute.
But the fouls, turnovers and missed layups finally caught up with them. Washington fouled out of her second game in a row and Thomas, Alton and Johnson each recorded four.
One foul of Johnson’s really stood out. Green Bay’s Julie Wojita ran down the court with Johnson trailing. It was one of those moments where you knew it was coming, bracing for it, but saying to yourself, “Don’t do it. It’s unnecessary.” And then she did it. Johnson swung at the ball, hacking Wojita and then watching ball rattle in as the referee called his least controversial foul of the game.
All season the Spartans have played with high emotions, ready to burst with even the simplest baskets. It’s been a delight for the fans to watch, but tonight the Phoenix got in their heads.
They were outplayed and outhustled, and although the true Spartan came out in each one of the starters as they battled back, they didn’t play Spartan basketball.
Anthony Odoardi is a State News sports reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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