With 5:41 left in the third quarter, Michigan State sophomore guard Nia Clouden found herself with the ball at the top of the key. She checked her surroundings. The Wisconsin Badgers had given her hot hand far too much space. She drilled the three, putting the Spartans up double-digits for the first time in the game.
The Badgers didn’t learn.
On the Spartans' next possession, Clouden again found herself with space. This time on the wing. Another three.
They didn't look back.
The injury-plagued Spartans (9-7, 2-3) had an uncharacteristic win on Sunday. They played a complete game. From the tip to the buzzer, the Spartans kept their heads in the game and competed. The effort propelled them to a win against the Badgers (9-7, 1-4), 69-52.
After several quiet outings in a row, Clouden showed up and showed out.
"Last few games she hasn't played well, it's been a little shocking. I think she has kind've talked herself into being in a slump of some kind... She game out tonight and I think she did a really good job of attacking off the dribble which is a little better for her," Head Coach Suzy Merchant said, "Her little pull up jumper, that usually breeds confidence."
Clouden finished with a team-high 20 points and five assists.
In the close contest, the Spartans' defense and hustle was emphasized. They did their job, holding Wisconsin to just 33 percent from the field and forced 20 turnovers.
"We didn't play it at all at Penn State, just kind've reaffirming and focusing, doing a better job defensively and we are just so young and inexperienced, those kids just need reps," Merchant said.
"If we can get stops, that helps us, because it allows us to get our transition game going which is better for us."
With senior guard Shay Colley and senior forward Victoria Gaines still out and redshirt junior Mardrekia Cook out with an injury, the Spartans were forced to play another game short-handed.
Freshman guard Alyza Winston gave key minutes off the bench and produced in her role. Scoring eight points on a perfect 3-for-3 shooting, she made the most of her opportunities. Winston created for her team on each side of the ball, including four assists and three steals.
In the absence of key frontcourt players, sophomore forward Kayla Belles and freshman forward Taiyier Parks stepped up.
Providing a scoring outlet and a consistent presence in the paint, the pair made up for the absence of Gaines and Cook.
Belles added another game to her current string of strong performances with seven points and five rebounds. Parks added six points and eight boards.
Sophomore Tory Ozment, played forward for this game and provided the team with eight points on three-of-five shooting.
"My jersey was called to play the four... I think you just have to be ready and prepared for that moment," Ozment said.
"I played point guard in High School... But I think I'm versatile, I'm tall and I have length, I think I can play the four too and I'll do whatever coach needs me to do that night."
With a strong effort from the team in the hustle stat categories, scoring came with it, mostly coming off of a pretty pass. The Spartans moved the ball well, assisting on 20 out of their 27 field goals.
The Spartans look to continue their ascent in the Big Ten on Jan. 16, with a home meeting against Ohio State.
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