Heading back out onto the floor for the second half, Michigan State was up 10 on Wisconsin in their regular-season finale, but the lead felt much smaller as Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant’s two leading scorers were a combined 1-9 from the floor between Alyza Winston and Nia Clouden.
Needing a spark, she turned to Winston.
“I’m like, ‘Listen, you got to go out there and compete,’” Merchant said after the Spartans' 67-54 win over Wisconsin. “‘You got to stop worrying about, should you shoot or should you not shoot? You got to go out there and be a competitor first. Get into people defensively, get your hands on balls, push it in transition. When you get the ball in your hands, be a competitor. See what’s in front of you and come off of screens with a purpose.’ We know where our bread is buttered. We certainly had great inside play today, but those two (Clouden and Winston) have be consistent for us.”
Winston quickly responded, drilling back-to-back threes in the third quarter and scoring 13 of her 14 points in the second half.
“Suzy came up to me and was just talking about how me and Nia just needed to be more consistent and now, who can she have to depend on in the crunch time and when the game is starting to get close, and who's going to get shots?” Winston said. “As soon as we went out there, she ran those two plays for me, and I knew I had to make something happen because we hadn't scored in a minute and they had just went on a run.”
Those plays were crucial for the Spartans down the stretch. The Badgers continued to battle back within single digits at times, and Clouden continued to struggle.
“It was really important,” Winston said. “Me and Nia were low in the scoring figures in the first half and we're the top two scorers on the team, so something had to happen. We’re Suzy’s go-to’s and when we're not scoring, she has to have somebody to depend on. I just knew that for the team, I see that energy can drop when me and Nia aren’t hitting shots, so we needed to bring that back up.”
Clouden as of late has struggled since scoring a career-high 34 against rival Michigan. She has failed to reach double-digit points in three consecutive games, shooting a dismal 15.4% from the floor in the last three games.
Prior to these three outings, Clouden had been a double-figure scorer in each game she had played in this season. Winston and her teammates know that it’s only a matter of time before the shots start to fall for Clouden.
“She knows that already,” Winston said. “She doesn’t really need to hear it. She’s very poised. She’s going to keep shooting regardless. She knows that she’s good. I’ll tell her, ‘You’re good,’ but she already knows that.”
Winston as of late has broken her rough patch of games, scoring double digits in three of her last four games outside of her 0-8 shooting night against Rutgers. For Winston, finding that consistency is something she wanted to do from day one.
“That was actually my word; we all had a word that we brought to the table at the beginning of the season, and my word was consistency,” Winston said. “Especially with the tournament coming up, that’s going to be crucial. Me and Nia have to come to play every single day and have our points because that’s our role on the team.”
As the postseason play begins, the time to get both Winston and Clouden going at the same time is all gone. Both Clouden and Winston know it’s put-up or shut up when March begins.
“It’s been tough; there’s just games when shots aren’t falling, and I need to do better in others ways to score too,” Winston said. “When my three isn’t falling, I need to do better getting to the basket or go get a steal. There’s no more time to really work. It’s tournament time, so me and Nia got to buckle down and hit shots is really what it comes down to.”
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