No. 14 MSU (1-0 overall) and No. 3 Notre Dame (1-0 overall) women’s basketball teams will square off Wednesday night at Breslin Center, with the Spartans hoping to avenge an ugly loss to the Fighting Irish last season.
The teams met in early November to kick off the 2013-14 season last fall but Notre Dame simply out-muscled MSU, 81-62. The Irish eventually went on to play for the national championship before losing to Connecticut.
This year, third-ranked Notre Dame should once again be a challenge for MSU.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “I embrace them. Notre Dame is a very talented program and they’ve had a lot of success, particularly as of late, so it’s a good way to check yourself a little bit and see where you stack up.”
After a close game with Eastern Michigan in the season opener, MSU has identified some flaws, especially on the glass.
“For us, we don’t defensive rebound well enough,” Merchant said. “It’s kind of the Aerial Powers show and nobody else, and right now that’s just not gonna be good enough to compete at the highest level.”
The Spartans were outrebounded 52-29 last year, including 24 offensive rebounds for Notre Dame. Merchant also said that MSU will need to match Notre Dame’s scoring, and avoiding a running game will be key if the Spartans hope to stay in the game.
Junior guard Jewell Loyd and freshman forward Brianna Turner will bring star power in for the Irish. Loyd was a Second Team All-American last season and Turner was ESPN’s second-ranked overall recruiting prospect coming out of high school.
Merchant said that Loyd is a “special talent” and her skill set allows her to influence many different areas of the game.
“As good of a scorer as she is, she just does so much more for her team,” Merchant said. “She’s a great rebounder, she can pass the ball, she can bring it in transition, she’s one of their best defenders. ... She doesn’t have a weakness in her game, quite frankly. She’s extremely mentally tough.”
Turner, who totaled 29 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in her first collegiate game, will also be tough to contain. Merchant has even compared her to Kevin Durant.
“If she’s not the freshman of the year, I’d be shocked,” Merchant said. “She’ll probably be player of the year at some point. She’s as good as they get, long, lanky, runs the floor, blocks shots, plays multiple positions.”
Notre Dame will have All-Americans, but the Spartans also have a couple standouts as well. Sophomore guard Aerial Powers tallied 20 points and 15 rebounds in the season opener, and sophomore guard Tori Jankoska also added 20 points, eight rebounds, and five assists.
Making shots was a struggle for MSU in its first game, shooting 33.3 percent from the field. Improving that number will be important Wednesday night.
“Offensively, we really need to slow down,” Jankoska said. “(We need to) make sure we start hitting some shots that we should be hitting as a team, the bigs finishing layups, guards finishing layups, and taking care of the ball.”
MSU and Notre Dame will tipoff at 7 p.m. Wednesday night.