Michigan State women’s basketball (13-12, 6-8) took the lead early and leaned on a balanced offensive attack to put away the Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-11, 5-10) for their second straight win, 66-54.
As freshman Jasmine Powell was the only Golden Gopher to score double digits, the Spartans' strong defensive front came up big for a team that needed to start stringing wins together.
Sophomore Nia Clouden, the Spartans' leading scorer with 16 points, said that the key to stifling Minnesota was making sure they couldn't create and capitalize off mistakes by MSU.
"I think it was just being able to guard one-on-one because they have some people that can create off the dribble," Clouden said. "And then guarding them without fouling, which I think we did a good job of that too."
In perhaps the most impressive part of the night, the Spartans held senior Taiye Bello, Minnesota’s leading scorer and rebounder, to four points in the first half and only one in the second half.
MSU coach Suzy Merchant said that Bello received a lot of attention in the game-plan due to her prowess under the basket.
"She's really fiery and quick and fast and almost becomes a guard-like creature (in the paint)," Merchant said. "We were talking to our kids like, 'show your hands, move your feet, stay between her, just wall up, don't come down, just stay between her and the basket.' ... We were a little concerned about that matchup because she's really going to get people in foul trouble and we tend to do that sometimes."
The Spartans outrebounded Minnesota 51-44, thanks to the efforts of freshman Moira Joiner and Clouden. Joiner said she takes great pride in her ability to get after it on the glass.
"Watching film on them, we knew that people could go to the (offensive glass)," Joiner said. "That's something that I always pride myself in, I try to go to the glass as much as possible. Tonight, they just didn't box me out as well as other teams do so I just went after it."
While Michigan State and Minnesota each shot 21.7% from the arc as a team, freshman Julia Ayrault stole the show in the fourth, putting away the Golden Gophers with 10 points in the fourth quarter, six coming off two triples on four attempts.
Merchant said that Ayrault can put those numbers up on any given night as long as she's healthy.
"I went into this year watching her, I'm like, 'this kid's gonna be our starting four,'" Merchant said. "But then she had all these ailments and issues ... but the kid's IQ is off the charts. I think she has a chance to be an All-Conference player, she just has to kind of figure out the bumps, the bruises and some of the challenges that happen in this game."
Ayrault said her coach's words meant a lot to her.
"It feels amazing," Ayrault said. "You know, everybody calls her 'boss lady' ... it definitely feels really good and that's a huge confidence booster for me."
MSU's defense also benefited from Minnesota’s uncharacteristic night from the free throw line. The best free-throw shooting team in the Big Ten, Minnesota only shot 25% in the first half and 64.3% overall from the charity stripe, a far cry from their 75.7% average.
The Spartans will take on Purdue at Mackey Arena this Thursday in an attempt to avenge their loss on Jan. 30 at home.
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