MSU redshirt junior Aerial Powers is preparing for her second NCAA Tournament appearance, but she said this one has a different feeling. Not only is this the most confident team Powers has ever played with, but a Big Ten Player of the Year snub also adds a heralded chip on her shoulder.
“I really do take that to heart that I haven’t earned that yet,” Powers said. “Especially the way I have been playing and the things I do for my team. Because I do more than just score for my team, and I think that is what being a leader is about and being a player of the year is about — doing more than just scoring. I rebound, play defense hard and I assist, too. So yeah, it puts a big chip on my shoulder, honestly.”
In late February, the eventual 2016 Big Ten Player of the Year, Minnesota’s Rachel Banham, and Powers put on a show at Breslin Center proving both worthy of the accolade.
Powers totaled 40 points, eight assists and six rebounds in a winning effort against the Golden Gophers, while Banham went for 52 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Powers is averaging 21.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game this season, while Banham is averaging 27.6 points, six rebounds and four assists per game. No. 16 MSU’s overall record is 24-8, while Minnesota’s is 19-11.
“After our Minnesota game I got a picture with (Banham) and I plan on putting that up after the tournament, just congratulating her on her 3,000 points,” Powers said. “I have a lot of respect for her, but obviously I am passionate about basketball so it’s going to put a chip on my shoulder.”
Powers, a 6-foot guard from Detroit, tore her achilles tendon during her first year at MSU and missed the entire season. In 2013-14, as a redshirt freshman, Powers was the first Spartan freshman ever to be named First-Team All-Big Ten. She was also selected to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team, but the freshman of the year award went to then-Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B.
Powers followed those honors, and lack of, by recording her ninth career double-double in a Big Ten Tournament semifinals matchup with Nebraska. She then went on to record her 10th double-double and a MSU NCAA Tournament record for rebounds in a game against first-round opponent Hampton University, as she totaled 26 point and 18 rebounds.
MSU lost to the University of North Carolina at its home in Chapel Hill in the second round during the 2013-14 season.
In 2014-15, Powers was a unanimous First-Team Big-Ten selection by the coaches. The player of the year award, however, went to Zahui B for media and Ohio State University’s Kelsey Mitchell for coaches.
The Spartans missed the NCAA Tournament, in part because injuries, but Powers put together a season of 24 double-doubles, which tied for first in the Big Ten and third in the NCAA last season. Powers averaged 21.9 points and 12.1 rebounds in 2014-15.
Now, in her fourth year at MSU and third year of eligibility, Powers finds her window of opportunity closing.
“Going deep in March is something I want to add to my legacy,” Powers said. “I mean, I have broken records, but those things don’t mean anything if you don’t have anything to show for your team. That you can lead your team into a title. I am looking for that to get under my belt.”
Powers has WNBA aspirations, but with much left to play for this season, she is undecided whether she will return or forgo her last year of eligibility.
“People ask me all the time but I haven’t made my decision yet,” Powers said. “I have a lot more confidence in this team than ever before, any other team than I have ever played on. No doubt. … So, we just have to continue to have a good mentality throughout the NCAA Tournament.”
The NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Bracket will be announced Monday at 7 p.m. The first round is set to begin March 18.
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