Michigan State women’s basketball (11-9, 4-5) aims to bounce back from a two-game losing streak against a Purdue (14-7, 5-4) team that’s gained ample momentum over the last week.
Following a close game that saw Big Ten leader Iowa finish on a 15-2 run to put MSU away in the final minutes, the Spartans fell below .500 in conference play for the third time this season. Senior guard Taryn McCutcheon said that she was heartened by the team’s spirit amid a disappointing finish.
“I think that at the end of the game, we just kind of lost it,” she said. “But the one thing I can say is that I’m proud we fought the entire game. ... In past games, I think that we’ve given up some, and I don’t think that we did that against Iowa.”
Closing out games has been a struggle for the Spartans this season. Out of nine total losses this year, MSU has led at the half in four of them.
McCutcheon said she acknowledges this inconsistency but is only concerned with going out and getting the win against Purdue tomorrow.
“We’ve been really streaky,” she said. “When we win games, it’s hard to beat us. And then when we lose games, we get really down on ourselves.
“So, I think we need to turn this around right now and get a win tomorrow against Purdue.”
As injuries sidelined senior leaders Shay Colley and Victoria Gaines, younger players have stepped up in their place. Freshman guard Moira Joiner averaged 14 points over the past three games but assistant coach Maria Fantanarosa said her impact on the other end of the floor deserves more recognition.
“The thing that people don’t always comment on is she’s guarding the best defenders on the other team,” she said. “(Joiner) continuing to play with this confidence and not only scoring when the opportunities are there but continuing to set her teammates up. ... That’s a big contribution for us as a team.”
Purdue comes to East Lansing on a two-game winning streak, thanks to the efforts of reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, senior forward Ae’Rianna Harris. Fantanarosa said minimizing the impact of Harris, Purdue’s team leader in points, rebounds and blocks, on both ends of the floor will be the key to the game.
“Offensively, we’re gonna try and use a lot of fakes and take her out of position,” she said. “Defensively, the best way to stop her is to not let her get the ball.”
The Boilermakers round out their “Big Three” with senior guards Karissa McLaughlin and Dominique Oden. While Oden is coming off a career high performance of 28 points against Penn State, Fantanarosa said it’s McLaughlin’s team to lead.
“The other players are talented around her, but whether she’s at the point or whether she’s at the off-guard position, she’s the head,” she said.
Fantanarosa added that the Spartans will work to minimize opportunities for McLaughlin to capitalize on open three-point shots.
“They run numerous plays for her to get her three point looks — we call it being there on the catch — so we don’t want her to get an open look on the three,” she said. “That’s our biggest focus.”
The Spartans are 8-1 at home this year and look to use their home court advantage to return to an even conference record. Sophomore guard Nia Clouden said she recognizes Purdue’s skill and experience but said it’s going to come down to who wants it more.
“As a player, you know we’re all Division I athletes at the end of the day," she said. "On any given night, it’s anybody’s given night. They’re coming into our territory, and we have to defend it.”