Sunday, October 24, 2021

Women's basketball falls to Louisville in first round of NCAA tournament

March 17, 2012
Freshman forward Becca Mills lets the ball go out of bounds during the women's basketball game against Louisville Saturday at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center in College Park, MD. The Spartans were defeated by the Louisville Cardinals, with a final score of 67-55. Derek Berggren/The State News
Freshman forward Becca Mills lets the ball go out of bounds during the women's basketball game against Louisville Saturday at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center in College Park, MD. The Spartans were defeated by the Louisville Cardinals, with a final score of 67-55. Derek Berggren/The State News —
Photo by Derek Berggren | and Derek Berggren The State News

College Park, MD — One and done.

The mantra of the NCAA Tournament is as old as March Madness itself, but the finality of the phrase hit Taylor Alton and the rest of the senior class especially hard on Saturday.

The MSU women’s basketball team (20-12) lost to Louisville (23-9) 67-55 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and as Alton sat at the podium, eyes red and voice cracking, she struggled to form the words to describe her disappointment.

“I don’t think we went out how we wanted to,” she said. “Things just didn’t really go our way tonight, and I think that some of us let it get into our head a little bit.”

The Spartans got off to a strong start — scoring the game’s first three points — but the game turned quickly when Louisville switched to a full-court pressing defense that spurred a 13-2 run and gave the Cardinals a lead they would never relinquish.

The defensive switch changed the speed of the game, as MSU began rushing shots and losing any offensive rhythm.

Freshman guard Kiana Johnson lamented after the game that she didn’t pull the ball out enough after crossing half court to allow MSU to run its offense, and head coach Suzy Merchant said it was a smart decision by the Cardinals in defending her freshman point guard.

“We felt like we really needed to be aggressive and attack (the press) and score off of it and we had our opportunities early and we missed some things,” Merchant said. “To their credit, they were coming after our freshman point guard, which is smart, and they were trapping some ball screens, which I don’t know if we handled so well. We were ready for it, we just didn’t do as good of a job of taking advantage of it.”

The problems got worse when senior forward Lykendra Johnson picked up her second foul less than five minutes into the game and sat for the rest of the first half.

With the Spartans defensive leader on the bench, Louisville blew the game open, extending its lead to as many as 17 points and finishing the half with a 39-23 lead, and Lykendra Johnson said her second foul changed the momentum of the game.

“It sucks picking up your second (foul) because you don’t want to let your team down,” she said. “But of course it changes the whole game because my team really needs me on the floor. … My fouls have killed my career.”

As Louisville was connecting from beyond the arc — making four its first six 3-pointers — MSU couldn’t find its stroke, shooting 1-for-14 (7.1 percent) from beyond the arc, before sophomore forward Annalise Pickrel made two 3-pointers with the game well out of reach.

After Kiana Johnson scored four quick points to open the second half, Louisville went on a 9-2 run to extend its lead to 20 points, 49-29, with 16:46 to go in the game.

The Spartans fought down the stretch, using a 8-2 run to cut the lead to 62-49 with 3:22 remaining, but MSU was never able to get closer than 12 points.

“I liked our fight in the second half,” Merchant said. “I thought we did a much better job playing our game and doing some things, but we just couldn’t get over that hump.”

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