Saturday, November 28, 2020

Injuries and schedule cause of recent women's basketball struggles

February 13, 2018
Redshirt senior guard Branndais Agee (10) dives for the ball with Maryland's senior guard Kristen Confroy (12) during the women's basketball game against Maryland on Feb. 8, 2018 at The Breslin Center. The Terrapins defeated the Spartans, 76-68. (Annie Barker | State News)
Redshirt senior guard Branndais Agee (10) dives for the ball with Maryland's senior guard Kristen Confroy (12) during the women's basketball game against Maryland on Feb. 8, 2018 at The Breslin Center. The Terrapins defeated the Spartans, 76-68. (Annie Barker | State News) —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

In a tough and loud environment, the women’s basketball team snapped its six-game losing streak in its match-up against rival University of Michigan on Sunday afternoon, 66-61. 

However, the Spartans currently sit at 15-11 on the season and 5-8 in the Big Ten. The team is currently tied with Penn State in the Big Ten standings and are in danger of falling in the bottom four, which would result in a first-round matchup.

Injuries and scheduling have played a major factor in an unsuccessful past month.

Redshirt sophomore guard Shay Colley has yet to play a game since Jan. 16 against Illinois, when she went down with an apparent knee injury. It was expected Colley was supposed to return within two weeks, but nearly a month later there is still no exact date when Colley will return. The team has only registered one 20-point quarter since the loss of Colley.

Senior guard Lexi Gussert had her first impressive performance against University of Michigan on Sunday since her return, but is still currently battling a fracture in her arm. 

Sophomore forward Madrekia Cook has been sidelined since Dec. 6 with an apparent knee injury, and freshman guard Claire Hendrickson has yet to log a single minute this season due to an injury as well. 

Sophomore guard Taryn McCutcheon has taken on a heavy load since Colley went down. In the past five games, McCutcheon has registered 38 minutes or more per game.

“Some of those kids haven’t logged these minutes. We’ve been able to share those minutes all year,” head coach Suzy Merchant said in a loss to U-M earlier this season. “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.”

The 3-point shot has been limited this season as only McCutcheon seems to be the go-to consistent player who can knock it down. Senior guard Branndais Agee has range, but is not a knock down consistent shooter and is used more of a slasher and finisher. 

Freshman forward Sidney Cooks is the team’s leading 3-point percentage shooter but, because of the loss of Colley, who usually sets Cooks open when she drives, has yet to make a single 3-pointer in the past five games.

Free throws and foul trouble seem to be a concern as the Spartans in the past six games have only shot 10 or more free throws only two times. The past three games against Penn State, Maryland and U-M, the opposing team has shot 20 or more free throws.

Merchant is known for being a defensive-minded coach, but used Colley as a pivotal role in the offensive unit. Colley attributed 15 to 20 points per game not just by scoring, but also finding the open player and setting her teammates up. McCutcheon has had to take on this role and adjust from being a defensive stopper to the primary ball handler of this team.

“That kid healthy was our best player,” Merchant said about Colley against Maryland. “It’s just been difficult to try to manufacture those points. I still think we get fouled a little bit more in the post, and I’m not sure why we’re not getting those calls down low.” 

Scheduling may have resulted in fatigue amongst the team. The Spartans have not had a five-day rest since Jan. 11 to Jan. 16. MSU went on a three-game road streak in January, which has never occurred in Merchant’s coaching career at MSU. Games are being played late at night in the middle of the week.

"It is about when you play people. It’s about who has the freshest, mental and physical feel to themselves,” Merchant said.

The Spartans will look to capitalize their win against U-M when they face the University of Nebraska this Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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