Shay Colley only scored two points Sunday against Michigan. It was the redshirt senior guard’s first game back from injury since Dec. 28 against Indiana, and only her seventh of the season.
It didn’t matter how many points she had, Colley’s presence alone brought the Spartans up another level.
Colley practiced Friday, but coach Suzy Merchant had no idea she would play until just before the game, while meeting with recruits, she learned that Colley would be suiting up.
“I didn’t even know she was going to play until ... right before the game,” Merchant said. “I was here with recruits and I’m like ‘What? Oh, O.K.’, but I don’t know what kind of ability she really has or what kind of shape and all that kind of stuff.”
Merchant was under the impression that Colley was going to take a little more time, but for Colley, it had to be go-time. Now it has to be go-time for her and Merchant.
”It was great to have her out there," Merchant said. "If we’re gonna do this then we kind of need to do this now, I was told she was gonna wait a little longer so the fact she was willing to play today was awesome, I think that says a lot about her."
“She looked like she was moving good, she had some good defensive coverages, she finished that layup, she did miss that one but she got a steal, I mean, that was really good to see, and, we just got to build on it now, it’s go time, there’s not much time left.”
While Merchant was left surprised that Colley played, senior guard Taryn McCutcheon wasn’t. In fact, she asked her to – She said she needed her to.
“No, I wasn’t (surprised). I talked to her and I just told her I need her,” McCutcheon said.
“I knew if T.T. told her that she needed to be out there, that she’d be out there for me.”
It didn’t matter that Colley only scored two points, not to the players. Colley brought a certain grit and hustle back to the bench. In a season that has been plagued by injury, Colley’s 10 minutes served as more than just playing time.
“Personally, I can’t put into words how much Shay being out there means to me,” McCutcheon said.
“I don’t care (about) her performance, I don’t care if she hits shots, just seeing her out on the floor, it is really encouraging for me, because Shay is an unbelievable teammate and I think that there’s a lot of things Shay being out there does besides scoring.”
But as her health comes back, Colley adds an entirely new dimension to the team. While she has been gone, the Spartans have embraced the "next man up" mentality, but her experience, smarts and toughness are all things this young group can learn as she adds a leader presence back into the Spartans lineup.
“On the defensive end, we need her, she’s just a tough player and she’s a smart player and if we can get her playing, it just adds a whole other element to the team that people are gonna have to scout,” McCutcheon said.
“She just changes the whole dynamic of our team, so if she’s playing more minutes, and she gets healthy, and she’s playing with us then people are gonna have to play us different.”
Colley’s nine minutes on Sunday were baby steps towards the Preseason All-Big Ten Team she was expected to be before her injuries. Back on the court earlier than expected, she has a chance to help and motivate her team as they try to end their season on a high note.
“It was good to see her out there, I think she felt good about trying to get out here and help a little bit," Merchant said.