Michigan State women’s basketball (13-12, 6-8) will travel to West Lafayette, Indiana in an attempt to split their season series against the Purdue Boilermakers (17-10, 8-7).
The last time these teams played, the Spartans lost 76-66 at home in the middle of a five-game skid that saw them completely overwhelmed by injuries. Redshirt junior Mardrekia Cook suffered an ACL injury in practice Jan. 29, a devastating loss to a team already reeling from the absences of redshirt seniors Shay Colley and Victoria Gaines.
MSU coach Suzy Merchant said she felt the team was still shocked by that injury in the Jan. 30 contest.
“I felt like a dark cloud from that practice carried over to the game,” she said. “Credit to Purdue for playing the way they played, but I felt like we were a little bit zombie, like you’re in shock kind of over what happened the day before.”
Senior Taryn McCutcheon and sophomore Kayla Belles played through the loss with a broken finger and a knee injury respectively. On top of that, sophomore Tory Ozment left the game against the Boilermakers after a scary fall in the fourth quarter that silenced the Breslin Center.
With subsequent losses on the road to No. 7 Maryland and No. 18 Northwestern, the rest of the regular season looked bleak.
But following a 66-54 win over Minnesota on Monday spearheaded by freshman Julia Ayrault’s strong fourth quarter, the Spartans have found new life on the season, riding a two-game win streak with underclassmen playing beyond their years.
Sophomore Nia Clouden and freshman Moira Joiner have led the charge for Michigan State's younger core. Clouden's 16 points on Monday marked her sixth straight game scoring in double digits while Joiner has played a huge role in a Spartan defense that's been improving game by game.
Merchant said that while it’s been an adjustment without her veterans, she’s enjoyed her underclassmen’s development through adversity.
“You have all these upperclassmen that you want to rely on and they’re not there anymore, you know?” she said. “So you’re going through some of these growing pains. And to see these kids start to believe and step up and be competent, it’s been kind of fun.”
Michigan State and Purdue are both 2-3 since their last matchup. Like the Spartans, the Boilermakers have strung wins together while struggling with a crucial injury of their own.
Junior Karissa McLaughlin, who dropped a game-high 24 points on the Spartans in the Jan. 30 contest, has missed the last two games due to a leg injury and concussion suffered in a loss against No. 19 Iowa. She is questionable to suit up against the Spartans.
Without McLaughlin, Kayana Traylor and Cassidy Hardin have stepped up in an attempt to replace McLaughlin's production. Traylor has averaged 12.3 points per game and Hardin is shooting 45% from the arc over the last three games, similar to, if not better than, McLaughlin's season averages of 12.9 points per game on 34.3% shooting from the arc.
The Boilermakers are headlined by seniors Ae'Rianna Harris and Dominique Oden. Both players are the two best scorers on the teams and make consistent threats on the glass with a combined average of 14 rebounds per game.
If the Spartans look to continue their winning ways, they'll have to play one of their best games yet in one of the toughest arenas in all of college basketball.
Tipoff is set for 7:00 p.m. at Mackey Arena.
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