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Preview: Merchant, Spartans women's hoops not overlooking CMU as matchup nears

December 18, 2020
<p>Sophomore forward Sidney Cooks shoots the ball over Central Michigan defender during a CAAW Tournament game in South Bend, Indiana on March 23, 2019. MSU defeated CMU 88-87 and advanced to the Round of 32 with the victory.</p>

Sophomore forward Sidney Cooks shoots the ball over Central Michigan defender during a CAAW Tournament game in South Bend, Indiana on March 23, 2019. MSU defeated CMU 88-87 and advanced to the Round of 32 with the victory.

Photo by Noah Goad | The State News

The last time these two teams faced off, it was the 2018 NCAA Tournament in South Bend, Indiana on the campus of Notre Dame.

Suzy Merchant and the Spartans were an eight-seed at 20-11 on the year. CMU, with two stars in Presley Hudson and Reyna Frost, was the nine seed and MSU won a nail-biter.

That was Sue Guevera's last game as head coach at CMU and it was the last time Michigan State made the NCAA tournament.

"I don’t like it, it’s like I don’t like to schedule people that have worked for me or whatever. I know that sounds kind of weird but it’s a personal thing," Merchant said about facing CMU on Friday. "Kristin Haynie used to work there as well on my staff, she used to an assistant at Central Michigan for a time and I played there. So there’s a lot of us that have ties to Mount Pleasant ... I think it made a difference in all our lives certainly our career paths and opportunities."

MSU (4-0) is coming off an 86-82 win over conference foe Iowa and Central Michigan (3-1) has won three straight since losing by 17 on the road against a ranked Michigan team.

Just like the last time these two schools met, it can always get interesting. So the Spartans won't overlook their foe on Friday.

"I mean you see it time and time again like anyone can beat anyone. So I think just coming into this game with the same mentality that we came in you know with the Iowa game or the Minnesota game like take it seriously it doesn’t matter who we’re playing," Sophomore guard-forward Julia Ayrault said.

"We need to be ready to go, locked in mentally, physically and they have three really good players and obviously their whole team is good," Ayrault said.

Micaela Kelly could cause problems for MSU

Guards who attack ball screens and make reads easily and often can cause problems for any defense.

Detroit native Micaela Kelly, a senior guard for the Chippewas, is no different.

"Micaela is a tough matchup as you mentioned, she can certainly shoot the three-ball, get to the rim, she’s powerful, she rebounds. There’s not a lot about her game that has a weakness to it," Merchant said. "She does a really good job attacking always and that’s where it starts for her. She really handles ball screen offense very well, like she loves to be in a ball screen and she really can handle attacking off-ball screens and making reads.”

Kelly scored 29 points in her last outing, a win over Miami (OH) last Tuesday. The senior is averaging 22.3 points a game which is team-high through four contests. A player with few holes in her game, Nia Clouden and Alyza Winston will have their hands full in the backcourt as they take on Kelly and the Chippewas.

The Spartans will rely on Clouden, an All-Big Ten performer from last season averaging 19 points per game, to carry the offense. But a big boost for the team has been the play of sophomores Alyza Winston — who scored 25 points against Iowa — and Ayrault, who had 19 points, her season-high, in the Spartans' previous win.

"Alyza’s done an amazing job, I think she’s really, she needed that opportunity and that confidence to do what she did and I think a lot of that is something we’ve wanted to see out of her and certainly she’s made the most out of her opportunity," Merchant said Thursday.

MSU and Central Michigan will tip-off at 5 p.m. in East Lansing at the Breslin Center. You can find the game live on 88.9 FM in the Lansing-area and on TV at BTN+.

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