Hoffman Estates, Ill. – Defense wins championships, or in the case of the MSU women’s basketball team, it gets them closer to one.
The Spartans defeated in-state rival Michigan 62-46 Friday night in the quarterfinals of the women’s Big Ten Tournament due in large part to their performance on the defensive side of the ball.
It was the 16th time this season MSU has held an opponent under 50 points, improving head coach Suzy Merchant’s record to 108-10 when holding a team under 60 points.
After losing to U-M in Ann Arbor in February, the third time was a chance at redemption.
After pulling the game to within two points early in the second half, there was a stretch where U-M didn’t score for nearly ten minutes.
Senior guard Jasmine Thomas said the Spartans used what they learned in the first half to put the game out of reach during that stretch.
“Just getting back to what we were doing to get us to that point before they cut it down,” Thomas said. “We went possessions without scoring and fouled a couple of times on the defensive end to kind of get them back in it.”
MSU statistically has the 12th-best defense in the nation, allowing just 51.6 points per game.
The last time the Spartans and Wolverines faced off, U-M guard Kate Thompson scored 11 points in just over seven minutes, and finished the game with 20 points and 4 three-pointers.
This time around, she finished with just 8 points, and only one 3-pointer, which came late in the game.
Junior guard Klarissa Bell was assigned to Thompson, and didn’t give her an inch all night.
“(I) definitely wanted to D up Kate Thompson the way I knew that I could,” Bell said. “I just didn’t do it as well as I could last time, so this time I definitely wanted to do that. I think that showed.”
Bell performed well on both sides of the ball, leading MSU with 20 points and snatching 5 rebounds.
Merchant said the talented U-M shooter is very difficult to guard, and after watching a lot of film on her, Bell choose one of the many ways that worked well.
“The longer that Klarissa could evade screens and chase the tail, and where the tail goes, there’s no screen,” Merchant said. “That’s simple as can be. So that was really our focus tonight. I thought she did a nice job at that.”
When the Spartans take the court to face off against No. 8 Penn State on Saturday, their defense will have to be even better going against the Nittany Lions’ 13th-ranked scoring offense.
Still, with the challenge looming, Merchant said her team is taking it one step at a time.
“You think everything in outcomes, and you forget about you gotta play in the moment,” she said. “Don’t worry about winning or losing at that time, Let’s, for us, Let’s worry about the possession we’re in offensively or defensively.”
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