ANN ARBOR - Going into Tuesday night’s game against the No. 16 Wolverines, the injury plagued women’s basketball team was already down four players.
Freshman guard Claire Hendrickson (knee), sophomore forward Mardrekia Cook (knee), senior guard Lexi Gussert (arm) and redshirt sophomore guard Shay Colley (knee) were all out for the marquee matchup against the Wolverines.
After sophomore guard Taryn McCutcheon was announced out with a concussion, which she suffered in the first half of the Indiana game on Jan. 20, about an hour before the game, the Spartans only had eight available players. And out of the eight available players, only one was a guard, redshirt senior Branndais Agee.
“We were 10-plus deep, and now I have, basically, seven people and six our post players,” head coach Suzy Merchant said after MSU’s, 74-48, loss to U-M. “So ya, it’s tough. It’s a challenge.”
With the injury to McCutcheon, this forced Merchant to play forwards at the point and not in their natural position.
“You have to start over completely,” Merchant said. “From transition defense, we can’t press, we lost our transition game on offense. We used to run people up and down. I mean, it’s a challenge.”
Even with McCutcheon out, MSU was able to narrow its 14 point halftime deficit to 10 at the 6:45 mark in the third quarter. But in the next four minutes, U-M would pull away by going on a 18-2 run putting the fatigued Spartans away. Five of the eight available Spartans ended up playing 30 or more minutes.
“Some of those kids haven’t logged these minutes. We’ve been able to share those minutes all year,” Merchant said. “We get tired, you know. Those are big girls out there trying to play perimeter defense on guards and move around and chase and that kind of thing.”
While in years past matchups may not have been a problem for an MSU and U-M game, this year is different, as the Wolverines have size that matches up with the Spartans.
“I think this is the best year we’ve had solid matchups with them,” U-M senior forward Jillian Duston said. “Previous years they were so much taller than us, but this year we had a lot more length so matching up with them was a little bit easier.” 1:08-1:18
The mass Spartan injuries don’t only provide teams with a good scouting report on who’s playing, but allows opposing teams to gauge what type of defense to play against MSU.
With the current state of the team, there’s only two players who can extend the defense with their 3-point range: senior center Jenna Allen and Cooks.
“Especially without Shay, Taryn and Lexi and (Mar)drek(ia) and all those guys that are out, you got to figure out a way to extend the defense that helps us on the inside,” Merchant said. “So you can’t have them in there all the time and people play off--and the kids that don’t shoot it, aren’t making shots.”
However, Cooks has been a consistent player every night for MSU, now leading the team in scoring with 10.7 points per game and 3-point percentage with 37.3 percent.
“Sid has been a bright spot,” Merchant said. “She has no fear, she believes in herself, she makes shots. You know, she has other things she has to work on certainly, there’s no question about that. I think she does her best.”
Cooks said the team has to get back to do “the simple things” such as rebounding properly by boxing out and making it easier for the limited players available.
“This is a hungry team,” Cooks said. "We take losses and we really focus on what we've got to do better the next game. Every game we're going to improve, whether we win or lose ... We just got to be excited and willing to learn new things and execute it."
The Spartans will be back in action this Saturday at noon to take on the No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus.