The Michigan State women's basketball team has been climbing up the Big Ten standings through its four-game win streak. After having a rejuvenating 76-65 rematch win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers last Monday, the Spartans will continue in their gauntlet run on Thursday in hopes of making it five consecutive wins.
The next opponent in Michigan State's path is one of the biggest that the Spartans will have to face off against all season: the No. 14 ranked Indiana Hoosiers. The Hoosiers, who are now just one spot ahead of MSU in the Big Ten standings, will be a formidable match for a Spartan team that is in the final push for a shot at the NCAA tournament.
With MSU's most recent win against Minnesota, the Spartans have moved up to fourth in the Big Ten Standings, sitting at 7-4 in the conference and 17-5 overall. The 17 wins on the season pushes the Spartans past their 16-win total last year, but it also places them into a new tier of opponents.
The only three opponents in the Big Ten to stand above Michigan State – Indiana, Ohio State and Iowa – are all ranked within the NCAA's top 25. Putting that into perspective, the Spartans have had down-to-the-wire battles against two of these three teams already earlier this season. While both matchups resulted in a loss for the Spartans, neither of the losses were by more than 5 points, as Michigan State lost to Iowa 76-73 and Ohio State 70-65.
However, throughout the season the Spartans have deserved to be in that list of the NCAA top 25 teams, but the snubs have been a part of the team's motivation as they have been on fire in their last four games.
Michigan State will not only be preparing to face off against the Hoosiers but the team follows that with a matchup against No. 5 Ohio State in a rematch on Sunday, this time at home.
The Spartans will be facing a completely different challenge heading into Bloomington, Indiana, and head coach Robyn Fralick is already very aware of that as she prepares her team for the big matchup.
"You (have) got to focus on the game in front of you; you have to focus on Indiana," Fralick said. "Indiana and Ohio State are very different teams with different styles and different players so there are some specific things going into that game that we have got to do well."
Coming into this matchup, the Hoosiers have had an impressive season as they currently hold an 18-3 record. The team has been just as dominant in the Big Ten as the Spartans and have won nine of the 11 Big Ten matchups they’ve played so far. In their two losses, the Hoosiers fell to the same opponents as the Spartans: Iowa and Ohio State.
Before the team's loss to Ohio State on Feb. 4, Indiana University also went on a four-game winning streak, defeating multiple opponents throughout the Big Ten.
The Spartans are the leaders in the series history between these two squads at 50-32, however, the Hoosiers have won four of the last seven games. MSU holds the series advantage both in East Lansing (24-11) and in Bloomington (21-18), and the Spartans will look to extend their slight away advantage.
The Hoosiers are led by head coach Teri Moren, who is in her 10th season as the head coach of Indiana and her 21st season overall. During her tenure with the Hoosiers, Moren has built up an impressive 218-96 record.
One player to look out for on the Indiana University side is graduate forward Mackenzie Holmes, who is leading the team in scoring and is nearly leading the Big Ten as well at the No. 2 spot, averaging 20.1 points per game while also being the No. 1 in field goal percentage with 66%.
Right behind her is senior guard Sara Scalia, who is averaging 16.0 points per game while also placing second in the Big Ten for three-point shooting percentage at 44%. She is also second in three-pointers made per game, with an average of 3.1.
These two top opponents will present a true and important challenge for the Spartans this week, and graduate guard Julia Ayrault is ready for the tests that will arrive this weekend.
"It's definitely probably our biggest week of the year I would say just two really good teams," Ayrault said. "It tests our toughness and ability of showing up on the road and being ready to go."
Tip-off for the matchup between the Spartans and the Hoosiers is set for Thursday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. inside of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The game will also be streamed on Peacock.
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