Ahead of matchup with Northwestern, MSU’s women’s basketball looking like conference contender


Joe Dandron, Women's Basketball Beat Reporter

The Michigan State women’s basketball program was an afterthought in the Big Ten conference race last season. At times, the team was only able to dress eight players for games and struggled with injury and rotation changes the entire season.

To put that into perspective, MSU had only three athletes play in every single game for the team last year. And that comes as head coach Suzy Merchant perennially marches out strong teams year after year, as her teams have finished third or better in eight of 11 seasons at the helm.

The Spartans are seemingly on a track to collide with AP Top 25-ranked Maryland (No. 4) and Minnesota (No. 12) for the conference title, drawing both teams at home later this month.

Michigan State however, has only one senior this year and a plethora of talented underclassmen to go with an 11-1 record that sports wins against then No. 3 Oregon and No. 19 Iowa. Both wins came at the Breslin Center.

The team’s only loss comes to a now-No. 9 N.C. State team at the Cancun Challenge.

This bodes well for the Spartans as they look to climb the Big Ten standings, having a home court that has seen a top-15 national ranking in total attendance and attendance per game every season since Merchant arrived.

Big Ten Championship Within Reach

The team is vying for its first outright Big Ten title since 2011, the team was co-champions of the league in 2014 with Penn State when both held 13-3 records.

This squad has shown it can play not only at home but on the road as well, although having its biggest games so far this season at the Breslin Center has allowed the team to power through its toughest tests.

The team defeated No. 19 Iowa 84-70 in a shootout in which true freshman Nia Clouden scored a career-high 27 points.

The biggest bright spot of the squad that has suddenly gotten healthy and subsequently much more competitive is the lone member of the senior class. Jenna Allen, a 6-4 senior from Indiana has bumped her averages of seven points and three rebounds a year ago to 16.5 points and 8.6 rebounds a game.

This was following a 20-point, 17 rebound effort against Iowa that saw her matched up with Megan Gustafson, who leads the nation in scoring at 26.8 points a game.

The team’s high-powered offense is ranked 6th in the nation in total points per game and after starting off the year 1-0 in league play, the team now faces off with Northwestern on the road.

Northwestern no pushover, Spartans face tough road test

The Spartans head into what some would consider a “trap” game that we see so often. Northwestern re-opened their Welsh-Ryan Arena with an 84-58 trouncing of No. 21 Duke earlier in the year.

This may be a tough task against a battle-tested Wildcat team that has faced off against three ranked opponents already this year, and at 8-5 Northwestern could easily pull off the upset once again this year.

A key player in this one for MSU could be the freshman guard Clouden, who after coming off that career game against Iowa, should be ready to head into Northwestern with a chip on her shoulder as star guard Shay Colley still works back from a lower leg injury.

The Spartans will of course will look to the lone senior, Allen, who was named last weeks Big Ten player of the week following the nationally televised win over Iowa.

Northwestern will lean on the play of sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam, who leads the team in scoring at just over 15 points a contest. The frontcourt will be held up by 6-2 senior Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, who is averaging 10.3 points and 10.2 rebounds a game while likely matching up with MSU center Allen.

The No. 15 Spartans and Wildcats tip off at 8:00 p.m. EST, you can watch the matchup on BTN+.