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Preview: MSU women's basketball looks to topple rival No.4 Michigan

February 10, 2022
<p>Then-freshman forward Naz Hillmon (00) takes a shot on Jan. 27, 2019 at the Crisler Arena. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines, 77-73.</p>

Then-freshman forward Naz Hillmon (00) takes a shot on Jan. 27, 2019 at the Crisler Arena. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines, 77-73.

Photo by Kara Keating | The State News

Michigan State women’s basketball will take on their rivals, the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines, tonight at the Breslin at 6:30 p.m. The Spartans will face quite the challenge on the court as they try to break their two-game losing streak.

The Wolverines are having an incredible season, currently posting a 20-2 overall record and an 11-1 conference record, and their recent wins over Indiana and Iowa have proved their dominance in the Big Ten standings. In contrast, the Spartans are 12-10 overall and 6-5 in conference play and have had to deal with season-ending injuries, a transfer and their never-ending battle for consistency.

“Every game,” Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant said, “I feel like we’ve been getting tougher, grittier, more determined. I liked what I saw today (in practice), I thought they had good energy and good focus, and obviously, it’s a big week for us. Not only do we play Michigan, but one day later we have to go to Indiana and play on Indiana’s home floor, so the two best teams in the league, so we better have a pep in our step, that’s for sure.”

Merchant also gave her insight into what has driven Michigan’s success this year.

“I think it’s two things:” Merchant said. “Veterans, I mean, they have all seniors and juniors, that’s who’s playing; they’ve been together a long time, I think that’s part of it ... and Naz Hillmon. I mean, that kid is ridiculous; her motor is better than anybody I’ve seen at that post position.” 

Hillmon, a senior forward from Cleveland, Ohio, has been a superstar for the Wolverines, averaging 20.5 points per game.

“When you go to Michigan,” Merchant said. "You gotta think about how you’re gonna defend her. And, so, everybody around them benefits from that. If you front her, you got a backside help, which they can skip and (then) Maddie Nolan’s hitting shots, or Leigha Brown. So they’ve got scorers on the perimeter too, which they’ve always had, but I think Naz just changes the game a little bit for them in terms of just how an opponent looks at them.”

Also changing the game has been MSU’s senior guard Nia Clouden, who is averaging 21.4 points per game. Clouden, who was just recently named to the Midseason Team for 2022 Jersey Mike’s Naismith Trophy for Women’s Player of the Year, will be leading by example and drawing from her own experience on how to perform in a high-level game.

“The flow of the game is gonna be crazy tomorrow,” Clouden said. “Both teams are gonna make their runs, but I think we’re both gonna be locked in.”

There’s no doubt her example will be headed by the freshmen who have yet to play in the well-known rivalry game.

“I really wasn’t big on college basketball or college sports at all,” freshman guard DeeDee Hagemann said. “I used to always watch pros, but as I got older, I know the (U-of-M/MSU) rivalry was really tough, and I’m just ready to play Michigan tomorrow.”

Freshman forward and Sweden native Matilda Ekh is dealing with a rivalry like this for the first time and is looking forward to the challenge

“I’ve never been here to experience a Michigan-Michigan State game,” Ekh said. “I’m very excited to finally get to play Michigan. It’s a big game. I’m excited.”

The Spartans will need this energy on the court if they hope to do the impossible and take down the Wolverines. Tipoff is at 6:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.

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