Michigan State looks to continue their undefeated streak when they take on Notre Dame as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Spartans are 6-2 on the season, with both losses coming on the road, while the Fighting Irish are 6-1; their only loss coming from Georgia in overtime as part of the Daytona Beach Invitational.
The two teams last met in 2019 in Indiana, a game in which the Spartans won 72-69, and now-senior guard Nia Clouden dropped 28 points. When asked about what she wants to see from her star player in this matchup, Head Coach Suzy Merchant doesn’t want her to change a thing.
“(Clouden) needs to just keep doing what she’s doing,” she said.
Clouden has been leading the team this season, consistently providing a sense of calm that sets the tone for her teammates. She’s averaging 19.5 points per game and continues to increase her season-high statistics with every game she plays.
The freshmen on the team have also been a force to be reckoned with. Freshman guard DeeDee Hagemann has found her groove in her “sixth woman” role by providing the team with a burst of energy off the bench. She’s proved her game is versatile, as she is able to knock down three-pointers and drive into the paint against much bigger opponents.
Freshman wing Matilda Ekh has also been a versatile and consistent player for the Spartans. She’s been able to demonstrate her knack for knocking down the long shot in her first season at MSU, something that will come in handy against the Fighting Irish, who Merchant believes will play a zone defense for part of the game.
Graduate student forward Alisia Smith also has the ability to knock down a long jumper and is coming off a career-high 20 points against Marshall last Sunday. If she and Ekh stay consistent and continue to hit those shots, the Fighting Irish will have to work overtime on defense to keep up.
However, MSU’s defense, which has struggled this year, will also need to step it up in order to take on arguably their most challenging opponent yet.
“Notre Dame’s having a really good year,” Merchant said. “They went to the portal and got a couple really good players that have made an immediate impact on them right away, and they’re just hard to guard. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re strong.”
They’re led by sophomore forward Maddy Westbeld, who has been averaging 15.4 points per game and was named the ACC rookie of the year last season.
This Notre Dame game will prove to be a real test for the Spartans, who begin Big Ten play on the road next week at Iowa. The team, which has struggled in road games, would like to enter their first conference game with a win over a strong Fighting Irish team. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday and will be aired on Big Ten Network.
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