Lady Spartans Slide past the Badgers

Five Spartans scored in double digits in their 71-67 win against Wisconsin on Thursday. They are now 6-2 in conference play and remain in second place in the Big Ten.

Guard Kiana Johnson, who missed the last game due to personal issues, came off of the bench and contributed 11 points, four assists and one block. In the last two games she played, she was 2-20 from the field. Tonight she was 4-8.

“Well, it’s a team sport. We didn’t have her against Ohio State, so some other people stepped up,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “It’s kind of her turn to give back and I thought she did a good job – four assists, one turnover and she made her free throws when she needed to. It was good to see her out there and contributing.”

Captain Annalise Pickrel led the team with 14 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Forward Becca Mills followed with 13 points and five rebounds. They each had one block and one steal.

Redshirt freshman Aerial Powers and freshman Tori Jankoska were among the other Spartans in double figures. They shared similar stat lines with 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and one steal each. They combined for seven turnovers.

MSU made eight of their first 14 shots and never trailed in the first half. They had a 19-7 lead in the middle of the half, but the Badgers fought hard and cut MSU’s lead to two.

Wisconsin’s starting center Michala Johnson was 9-12 in the first half, scoring 19 points.

Coach Merchant said she was upset because her team had zero offensive rebounds in the first half.

“It’s just inexcusable to have zero offensive rebounds in twenty minutes of play,” Merchant said. “It’s not like we shot 75 percent from the floor. It is inexcusable and unacceptable – they were well aware of that. Second half, we came out in a zone because we couldn’t guard No. 25.”

The Badgers kept the game close throughout the second half. Johnson hit a clutch jumper with 30 seconds left that put MSU up 70-65, but Wisconsin answered on the next possession with a lay-up, cutting the lead to three with 22.5 seconds left on the clock.

Pickrel blocked a Wisconsin three-pointer with 10 seconds to go to seal the win.

Despite the victory, Merchant believes her team plays better on the road due to the many distractions at home.

“I was talking to (Tom) Izzo about it. They have so much going on – this person is coming to the game, that person is coming to the game and this buddy is there,” Merchant said. “My message to them yesterday was to think about how we are when we go on the road. We know we have to be tougher and more aggressive because it’s us against the world.”

The Spartans will remain at home to host No.19 Purdue (15-6) on Sunday. Tip-off is set at 1:30 p.m.

Sierra Williams is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.

Photo: Nubia Buckingham/Impact Sports