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Preview: Michigan State women's basketball opens against Morehead State shorthanded

November 9, 2021
<p>Freshman guard Julia Ayrault (40) grabs the ball during the game against Morehead State at Breslin Center on Dec. 15, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Eagles, 93-48.</p>

Freshman guard Julia Ayrault (40) grabs the ball during the game against Morehead State at Breslin Center on Dec. 15, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Eagles, 93-48.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Women’s basketball is finally back at the Breslin Center as the Spartans host Morehead State on Tuesday to open the season. Michigan State looks to build on the work they did last season when they finished 15-9 overall and 8-7 in the Big Ten and were ranked as a 10 seed in the 2021 NCAA tournament. 

The Spartans will have to start the season without veteran players senior guard/forward Tory Ozment and junior guard Julia Ayrault, who will both miss the season due to injuries. In their absence, freshman guard/forward Matilda Ekh and freshman guard DeeDee Hagemann look to add some depth to the team. Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant liked what she saw from them during the pre-season games and hopes they take away some scoring pressure from senior guard Nia Clouden going into the regular season.

Tuesday will be the second time Michigan State and Morehead State have faced each other, with the Spartans winning the first matchup 93-48 in 2019. However, there have been many changes on both teams since 2019. The Spartans have two key players out with injuries, and the Eagles’ have a new head coach, Cayla Petree, who is looking to begin her time at Morehead with a victory. 

After the opener, the Spartans will face a tough Big Ten League this season, but Merchant is confident in her team.

“I feel good about our group,” Merchant said. “We have a veteran group. They have experience back. We’re a little less experienced now with a couple of those injuries, but, at the same time, I think DeeDee and Matilda have done a great job filling in.”

They’ll be led by the veteran leadership of Clouden, who was named Preseason All-Big Ten First team and will be the biggest threat to the Eagles. She was described by Merchant as one of the best players and guards in the country.

Junior guard Alyza Winston will also be a force to be reckoned with on the court. She was the top scorer in the exhibition game against Northwood, with 20 points, and looks to continue that leadership against Morehead State. Merchant has been impressed with her performance so far.

“She’s evolving,” Merchant said. “Now, this year, it’s fun to watch her even if she isn’t running the true point.”

If the Spartans want to start the season with a victory, Merchant believes they’ll need to improve on their defense after their performance against Northwood. If they do improve their defensive performance and the freshmen give the veteran players some much-needed depth on the court, the Spartans should have no problem starting off their season on the right foot with a home opener victory.

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