The MSU women’s basketball team welcomed first-year Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico to the in-state rivalry in overwhelming fashion Monday night.
Once the Spartans overcame a poor shooting stretch at the beginning the game, the rout was on.
MSU (18-4 overall, 6-3 Big Ten) took advantage of an explosive run in the second half to down rival Michigan (16-6, 5-4) for the 12th consecutive time, 61-46.
“I think Michigan State is the program that sets the bar, obviously, for the state of Michigan,” Barnes Arico said.
“They have a great fan base. They have a great following. They have a great program. They have a rich tradition, and they win. … When I came (to Michigan), this is the program I look at, and the program that has done a tremendous job in our state, and that is something we are striving for and achieving to be.”
It was a pivotal win for MSU as both teams began the game stuck in a pack of five teams with identical 5-3 conference records sharing third place. The Spartans have finished second or better in the Big Ten in each of the last four seasons.
Both teams wore special pink uniforms at Breslin Center for MSU’s annual Play 4Kay game to raise awareness for breast cancer. An active crowd of 8,812 fans covered the arena’s lower bowl in a mix of green and pink with intermittent patches of blue or maize.
“It was amazing. We love the support, we love Spartan nation,” sophomore guard Kiana Johnson said. “The student section was great. … We just want to make the fans happy. I feel like it gives us more energy. We can feed off the crowd.”
Monday’s matchup was nothing like the previous episode of the rivalry, which MSU won on a buzzer-beater in Ann Arbor.
The Spartans made just six of their first 22 shots from the floor but responded with a 7-0 run starting with 13 seconds left in the first half through nearly the first three minutes of the second.
The Green and White grew the lead to as large as 21 points and never led by less than 12 after the first two minutes of the second half.
“It really isn’t about tallying things up,” said head coach Suzy Merchant.
“This team is different than any other team we’ve had in the past. And for us, this is the only chance we’re going to get to play at home with this group of kids. So for us, it was a focus on we don’t want Michigan to win the game on Breslin court. I don’t care how many times it’s been. “
For tallying purposes, MSU improves to 61-15 all-time in the series with the Wolverines.
Sophomore Becca Mills paced MSU with 12 points off the bench in another balanced scoring night for the Spartans. All five starters scored at least eight points.
Merchant praised junior guard Klarissa Bell’s effort on the defensive side. Bell played 38 minutes and spent the majority of the game chasing Michigan sharpshooter Kate Thompson, one of the Big Ten’s most prolific 3-point shooters. Thompson, also the Wolverines’ leading scorer at 15.2 points per game, was held to 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting.
The Spartans as a whole — in a battle of the No. 1 and No. 2 scoring defenses in the conference — suffocated the Michigan offense into shooting 25.9 percent in the second half and just 32.1 percent on the night.
“I’m a Spartan and they’re Wolverines, so there’s a major, major rivalry — and there always will be,” Merchant said.
The Spartans now have won two straight games as they prepare to head to State College, Pa., for a date with Big Ten-leading Penn State on Sunday. The Nittany Lions handed MSU its worst loss of the season at Breslin Center on Jan. 6, 76-55.
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