After two weeks of sitting on the sideline, Michigan State women’s basketball will return to action against Wisconsin on Sunday.
According to Michigan State women’s basketball Head Coach Suzy Merchant, there was one positive COVID-19 test within the team, although she did not clarify whether that was an athlete or someone from within the staff. That positive test on the women’s side coincided with the six positive tests within the men’s basketball program and both teams use the same facilities for the practices outside of their own locker rooms.
In addition to the anxiety COVID-19 concerns after a positive test, some players wanted to be tested multiple times to ensure they were in the clear.
"I think the hardest people it’s on are the kids or the players,” Merchant said. “I think they want to be all in, but I think in the back of their mind they're still nervous about what's going on and just their mental health and well-being and do they feel safe. I talked to several coaches around the country that are friends of mine and once you have a positive, it does kind of make everybody look around like, ‘Oh man, that person was just in practice yesterday, am I going to be next?’ Just the mental side of all that is a little bit of a struggle.”
After being cleared to play and as of yet not having any setbacks, the Spartans will need to flip their attention to playing in a game again.
“I always just try and tell them, ‘Listen, it's just a game, this is a basketball game, we get to play a basketball game. There (are) people out there that are going through a lot tougher times and facing a lot more challenges than just this,’” Merchant said. “We try to use basketball as the light of their day versus all the struggles and the divisiveness of what's going on in our country or racial injustice or certain other issues that seem to mentally challenge them.”
After postponing the first game of two against Illinois, the Spartans split their practices up into roommate groups, similar to what occurred in the summer as they took time to see how the situation unfolded.
The team returned to full practice on Tuesday and has yet to have any setbacks as of yet.
That much time away from competitive basketball this season is new for the Spartans as the only time they went more than a week without a game was during their winter break, something the team is accustomed to this time of year.
“I feel like they are mentally prepared for something like this,” Merchant said. “It isn't easy to go through, but I do think that they recognize this could happen and they were ready for it in some odd way. We were lucky in the non-conference, we didn't have one game canceled in the non-conference.”
The Spartans now turn their attention towards the 3-9 Badgers, who are a winless 0-9 in Big Ten play thus far. The Badgers are led by sophomore guard Sydney Hilliard, who is currently leading her team in points and assists by averaging 17.2 points and 4.8 assists per game along with being second on the team in rebounds, averaging 5.9 per game.
Wisconsin has struggled to find offense outside of Hilliard this season as they’re averaging only 65.5 points per game. Their only other two sources of offense come from junior forward Imani Lewis with her post play and work on the offensive glass and sophomore guard Julie Pospíšilovà, who is shooting over 45% from beyond the arc.
With only one true senior on the roster, the Badgers will be looking for someone to emerge as a scoring threat on a consistent basis around Hilliard to give Michigan State their third consecutive loss.
Heading in to play Wisconsin at the Kohl Center is never an easy task, fans or not. Despite Julia Ayrault and Taiyier Parks being available in practice after their injuries prior to the postponement, it is unclear who will be available for the Spartans on Sunday.
Regardless of who is and isn’t available, Merchant wants to see her squad bounce back.
"I'm actually anxious to see how our team responds,” Merchant said. “I know some teams have just picked up where they left off and some you can see the lag. I liked our practice today, it was a little up and down at times but I think that's just part of still getting back into it again. Come Sunday at 4:00, I hope it's foot on the gas and everybody's competing and getting after it.”
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