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Preview: Michigan State looks to earn 1st AP Top 25 win over No. 22 Northwestern

February 7, 2021
<p>Alisia Smith and Christina Nichols attempt to catch a rebound on Nov. 27, 2020.</p>

Alisia Smith and Christina Nichols attempt to catch a rebound on Nov. 27, 2020.

Photo by Lauren Snyder | The State News

After snapping a two-game losing skid against Illinois, Michigan State women’s basketball (10-4, 5-4 Big Ten) is set to take on No. 22 Northwestern at home as they look to climb back up the Big Ten standings and win their second consecutive game.

The Spartans had lost four of their last five games prior to their win over Illinois. The Spartans were led by Nia Clouden, who is firing on all cylinders right now after scoring 28 against the Fighting Illini, just four points shy of her career-high.

“I feel really confident and I feel really comfortable out there,” Clouden said. “I think that really just comes from knowing that my teammates trust me and knowing that the coaches trust me to do what I feel like is right when I’m out there on the court.”

Northwestern has won back-to-back games including one over No. 11 Ohio State on Monday. The Wildcats are led by Veronica Burton, who's scoring 17.8 points per game, and Lindsey Pulliam, scoring 16.2 points per game. The duo combined for 35 points, 25 rebounds and 12 assists in their win over the Buckeyes.

Here are three things to watch for when Northwestern makes its way to East Lansing.

Who’s the second scorer for Michigan State?

In their win against Illinois, the Spartans spread the ball out well and didn’t necessarily need that second scorer to arise. But the Wildcats are a different animal.

The Spartans will need a second scorer to complement Clouden in this game to compete throughout four quarters, especially when the team falls into a tough offensive drought.

One of those players could be Alisia Smith against this Northwestern team that doesn’t have the size to truly affect Smith throughout a game.

“She’s brought a lot, especially from the post spot,” Clouden said. “She runs the floor really well in transition and she posts up well on the block and it’s really easy to get it to her because she posts up really well. She just brings versatility on offense, she can step out, shoot the jump shot, hit a three, drive and post-up. I feel like she’s just brought a lot of things to our offensive game that we didn’t always have before.”

The post-play from Smith and Taiyier Parks will be something to watch as the game unfolds.

Limiting Burton

Burton can do it all.

At only 5-foot-9, Burton racked up 15 rebounds along with nine assists in their win over Ohio State. Along with that, Burton is averaging over four steals per game to go along with leading the team in scoring and assists.

The Wildcats have other offensive weapons as well, but Burton is playing at an All-Big Ten type of level that only Clouden will be able to match on the offensive end.

Disrupting Burton on offense and having a tight string on the ball will be key to make sure Burton cannot take over in this game.

Foul Trouble

Both teams, especially Northwestern, love taking it to the rim to draw fouls and get easy points from the line. With both teams having limited players who can play in the post, each team will have to be very careful in making sure the bigs they do have can stay out of foul trouble.

With Michigan State’s offense, the Wildcats are not going to want to give the Spartans a lot of opportunities for free points with how explosive they can be at times. For Northwestern, getting to the line is a key part of their offense and it could potentially play into their favor if they can keep Smith and Parks on the bench.

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