EAST LANSING — For the first time in nearly a month, the Michigan State Spartans will hit the court with a winning streak on the line. After a gutsy come from behind 57-53 victory over Rutgers on Feb. 13, the Spartans will be looking to get their season record above .500 on the season when they welcome the visiting Minnesota Golden Gophers to town on Monday night at 7 p.m.
After falling behind 21-13 at the end of one, MSU inched back into the contest over the next two quarters. The Spartans would take their first lead since the first quarter at the 8:55 mark of the fourth. Rutgers would respond with a 7-0 run of their own that was led by Khadaizha Sanders, who drained a three to regain the lead for the Scarlet Knights and then converted in the paint to push the Rutgers lead to four.
After an Arella Guirantes layup, the Spartans would respond with a 10-0 run to bury the Scarlet Knights for good. Taryn McCutcheon would hit four last-minute free throws to put a bow on an otherwise impressive come-from-behind victory. McCutcheon would lead all Spartans with 16 points.
The 2019-20 season has been a rough one for the visiting Golden Gophers. They’ve only mustered a 5-9 record in conference to go along with a 15-10 overall season record.
Minnesota will come into Monday night’s contest as losers of its last two. The Gophers were clobbered by both Michigan and Ohio State over the past week. Both games resulted in 20-plus-point losses.
Gopher star Destiny Pitts announced her intention to transfer in mid-January after a brief suspension. Pitts, who played at Detroit Country Day in high school, led the Gophers in scoring through mid-January with 16.3 points per game. In her absence, the Gophers have had a hard time replicating that missing offensive presence.
Despite not having one elite player, the Gophers have a strong supporting cast of Taiye Bello, Jasmine Powell, Sara Scalia and Gadiva Hubbard. All four of these players are averaging between 11 and 12 points per game on the season. Bello leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 12.3 points per game and 9.9 rebounds.
The Gophers are led by second year head coach Lindsay Whalen, who was a WNBA all-star five times over. Whalen, who played for the Gophers from 2000-2004, holds the all-time school record in points scored and scoring average. She left Minnesota in 2004 with a 20.2 career scoring average in four seasons.
After a brutal five-game stretch that saw the Spartans play four ranked teams, the level of difficulty in the schedule will subside some, as the Green and White will square off against Penn State and Illinois in the coming weeks. These two clubs have a 3-24 record combined in conference.
It has been quite a long time since MSU has had hope of any kind going into a conference matchup. With a possible automatic WNIT berth on the line, the Spartans must protect home court against Minnesota if they wish to continue building their résumé going into March.
Nathan Stearns is a women’s basketball and field hockey beat reporter for Impact 89FM WDBM. Follow him on Twitter at @NathanStearns11.