Michigan State women’s basketball (11-12, 3-9) went into their locker room at halftime with a 40-33 advantage against their rival, the No. 17 Michigan Wolverines (19-5, 9-4). The energy in the first half from both the biggest crowd the Breslin Center has seen all season and the players were high with hopes for a season split. Those hopes slowly turned into lost dreams as fifth-year guard Leigha Brown and her team mounted an enormous second half, capped off with a 77-67 win.
After dropping 10 points on 4-5 shooting in the first half, Brown scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds to bring her total to 29 points and 12 rebounds. She was just two assists short of a triple-double.
“She took 12 shots, she made eight of them,” Associate Head Women's Basketball Coach Dean Lockwood said after filling in for Head Coach Suzy Merchant for the third straight game. “She went to the free throw line 13 times, she made 12. That's very, very impressive. She's very efficient. She's got a pull up jumper that's as good as anywhere in the country. She can go left and right. So again, a lot of respect for her performance today. She did a very, very good job.”
Statistically, U-M is one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten, as they rank second in the conference in scoring defense. Lockwood said that their defensive prowess was a factor that slowed them down in the second half but that that just comes with the territory of playing the Wolverines.
“You have to credit Michigan,” Lockwood said. “They're long, they're physical. We're a little smaller, especially on the perimeter. So that's a factor when you're out there and you're bumping bodies and then you're also facing length. That's just the reality of life for us. We're gonna have to overcome that.”
Sophomore forward Matilda Ekh agreed with her coach that the Wolverines were solid on that side of the ball in the second half, but also agreed that the loss more so falls on her team's part, especially when the Spartans missed more shots than U-M attempted.
“We just played together in the first half,” Ekh said. “We were moving the ball on offense and got very open looks. And that correlated to our defense. We played very hard. We created a lot of open shots. And then in the second half I felt we almost started panicking a little bit when they started to get back and we just started playing as individuals. We stopped playing together and didn't get the open looks we got in the first half. We took some bad shots so that they could run off and get into transition points. So we just were not able to stay together for 40.”
The loss marks the first time in three years Michigan has left the Breslin with the win as well as a two-game series sweep. Senior guard Moira Joiner was upset that her team couldn’t finish in the final 20 minutes against their rival despite her 12 points in the first half.
“Definitely shed some tears,” Joiner said. “It means a lot. Hopefully we see them in the Big Ten Tournament but Michigan-Michigan State is always going to be a tough one.”
Michigan State will look to end their three-game losing streak this week as they hit the road and head to Madison to take on the Wisconsin Badgers Wednesday night.