Wednesday, October 27, 2021

FINAL: MSU 67, Wisconsin 54, women's hoops wins on senior day

March 6, 2021

Senior night started with a bang as redshirt junior guard Claire Hendrickson hit what might have been the most memorable shot of her college career.

The shot sparked an offense that struggled at times to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers, 67-54.

Hendrickson, plagued by injury her whole career, got the start on a senior night as it would be the final game of her career. She only played for 25 seconds to start the game, but she made the most of it. Hendrickson is going to medically retire from playing after this season due to a rash of knee injuries that have plagued her since high school.

In a play designed to get her an open shot, she drilled a three from the top of the key off an assist from junior guard Nia Clouden.

Hendrickson said it was nerve-racking preparing for the play because she hasn’t shot much since November 2020 until today.

“When I was warming up today it felt really good,” Hendrickson said postgame. “When 'Drek (Mardrekia Cook) set the flair screen I had time to get it all together and it felt really good when I let go. I was just praying that it went in.”

“I was so fired up,” Head Coach Suzy Merchant said. “We had been practicing it and talking about it. … That was a big moment for her, and I’m super proud of her for everything she’s done for the program but certainly stepping up and starting things out on a positive note.”

Hendrickson quickly committed a foul after the shot to sub the rest of MSU’s regular starters into the game, and as she went back to the bench they erupted in excitement and celebration for their teammate, just as she has done for them all season from the sideline.

“It felt great because she deserved it more than anybody else,” sophomore guard Alyza Winston said.

MSU uses tough defense to pull away

MSU’s offense took a minute to get going, but their defense came out on point by putting heavy pressure on Wisconsin. The Spartans even ran a 1-3-1 full-court press in the first quarter, never letting the Badgers to get the ball up the court comfortably. 

At the end of the first quarter, MSU had already totaled three steals and forced seven Wisconsin turnovers, putting the Spartans up 14-12 at the end of the first.

MSU’s offensive struggles would catch up to them in the second quarter. At one point they committed two traveling violations in three possessions, allowing the Badgers to tighten the score to 25-21, with MSU still in the lead.

As Nia Clouden got her first field goal to go with 22 seconds left in the half, MSU’s offense gained traction. They dominated the paint, scoring 18 points. MSU was able to once again widen the gap and go up 33-23 at halftime behind eight-team steals in the half.

Wisconsin would come out the half on a 6-0 run, once again cutting the lead, MSU was now only up 33-29.

MSU would stay composed and once again open up a double-digit lead as Winston hit back-to-back three-pointers to give MSU a 40-30 lead with 5:27 left in the third quarter.

Winston would be a catalyst for MSU today, finishing with 14 points, going 3-6 from three.

“Suzy came up to me and was talking about me and Nia need to be more consistent,” Winston said. “... I just knew I had to make something happen because we hadn’t scored in a minute, and they just went on a run.”

The rest of the third quarter was carried on the backs of the MSU bigs, senior forward Alisia Smith and sophomore forward Taiyier Parks. They extended the Spartan lead and led them to victory, as MSU went up 49-37 at the end of the third quarter.

While Smith only scored four points, she pulled down 12 rebounds, which included five offensive rebounds. When Smith came out of the game, Parks picked up right where she left off. She finished the game with a double-double, 14 points and 11 rebounds.

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“I thought those two were really really big; I thought Ty was exceptional today,” Merchant said. “... Our gameplan definitely was to try and do a better job of finding them inside.”

The fourth quarter was the nail in the coffin for Wisconsin. Clouden scored her second and-1 of the game early in the quarter to put the Spartans up 57-41. 

With six minutes left, Parks would block a Wisconsin three-pointer nearly into the stands, delivering a demoralizing blow to the Badgers and putting a stamp on her outstanding night. 

Junior guard/forward Tory Ozment stepped up today as well for MSU, totaling 10 points. 

MSU would end up dominating on all sides of the ball. On defense, they grabbed 12 steals, which created 17 fast break points and 26 points off turnovers. On offense, they had 32 points in the paint, largely helped by 15 offensive rebounds.

As the final minute approached, the MSU seniors subbed in to kiss the Spartan logo on the court during their last home game. The kiss was the amazing final touch on a great day for Spartan basketball.

MSU heads to Indianapolis on Tuesday to participate in the Big Ten tournament, as they look to build off of their success from today.

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