With just four games remaining in the regular season, it’s unquestionably “crunch time” for the No. 23 women’s basketball team.
But during her weekly press conference on Monday, head coach Suzy Merchant used a different term — “February fight.”
Only two weeks remain in the regular season for the Spartans, and with a tie for the second-place Big Ten spot with No. 17 Nebraska, the final games will be pivotal in determining which teams earn a share of the Big Ten title.
“I think if you want to be a championship team, you want to win a championship, you gotta fight in February, and you gotta dig a little deeper than the guy in front of you,” Merchant said. ”I’ve always kinda believed in that February fight mentality. Fighters usually win.”
Fresh off a 70-49 home victory against Ohio State last Saturday, the Spartans are in a favorable spot to maintain the team’s second-place position. To catch first-place Penn State, who is 11-2 in the conference and ranked No. 9 nationally, likely would require MSU to go undefeated for the rest of the season and Penn State to lose a fair share of games.
The Spartans have two home games and two away games left on the slate, with one upcoming on the road against Wisconsin on Thursday.
“This is the time that you roll up your sleeves and you go to work and you dig a little deeper,” Merchant said. “Everybody’s a little banged up and tired, but it’s a long year. This is what you work so hard for.”
Merchant would like to see MSU lessen its dependence on fast-break scoring. With junior guard Kiana Johnson suspended indefinitely, the Spartans’ half-court execution has taken a hit, leading to a greater reliance on running and gunning.
It worked against Ohio State, but Nebraska shut MSU’s fast-break offense down, leading to a blowout 76-56 victory for the Huskers.
“I think our men kinda go through that too, they’re kinda driven to get the ball down the floor and score easy buckets, and if people are sending people back, their poor core execution becomes more significant and important,” Merchant said. “I think that’s critical.”
Merchant said she saw progress during last week’s bye week. For MSU to continue to improve, it has to take command of the remaining games.
“You can’t just roll with the punches and think it’s going to be the same all the time,” Merchant said. “I believe if you want something, you go get it. You don’t wait for something to happen and you don’t hope it happens.
“This is a time where teams that are driven and focused know that and come into work every day prepared in practice.”