Spartans look to win fourth straight, welcome in arch-rival Wolverines


Taryn McCutcheon (Photo: Ian Gilmour / WDBM)

Nathan Stearns, Women's Basketball/Field Hockey Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING — As the calendar turns toward March, the Michigan State Spartans have kicked it into high gear by rattling off three consecutive wins. The Spartans were able to go into West Lafayette on Thursday and emerge with a gutsy 65-63 win over Purdue. MSU will be looking to improve its winning streak to four on Sunday when the Spartans welcome arch-rival Michigan to the Breslin Center.

Despite struggling mightily in the first half, sophomore Nia Clouden came alive in the fourth quarter with nine huge points in crunch time. Clouden would use her expectionall ball handling skills to drill an open jumper with 22 seconds left to give the Green and White a narrow 63-61 lead. After a Jenelle Grant driving layup, Clouden would once again wear a crown, as she drove to the cup and scored again with only two seconds left. This would prove to be the difference, as MSU exacted revenge on the Boilermakers, who had defeated MSU 76-66 earlier in the season.

Both Kayla Belles and Tory Ozment had solid games, as the duo combined for 22 points, three blocks and five rebounds. Taryn McCutcheon also had a strong night from the floor that included four 3-point makes.

MSU will be searching for revenge on Sunday when the Michigan Wolverines head up I-96. The Wolverines knocked off the Spartans at the Crisler Center on Jan. 5 by an 89-69 final. Despite the lopsided score, MSU was only down by four heading into the fourth quarter, where the Wolverines outscored the Spartans 26-10.

The 2019-20 season has been an up-and-down one for Michigan. The Wolverines, who own an 8-7 conference record, have done a good job of beating up on the basement dwellers in the Big Ten, but have struggled mightily against the top dogs. The Maize and Blue currently sport a 1-4 record against the top three teams in the Big Ten (Northwestern, Maryland, Iowa).

Michigan is led in scoring by intimidating low post presence Naz Hillman, who is averaging a healthy 16.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Kayla Robbins and Amy Dilk are also having strong seasons, with season averages of 11.6 points per game and 11.4 points per game respectively. Dilk is arguably the best Michigan sharpshooter, as she has a solid 37% shooting percentage from beyond the arc.

Michigan is coached by Kim Barnes Arico. Under Arico, the Wolverines have made three NCAA tournament appearances in seven seasons, as well as a WNIT championship in 2017.  Arico came to Michigan after being at St. Johns for a decade, where she notched four NCAA tournament berths and a 2012 Sweet 16 appearance. 

With a three-game win streak in tow, the Green and White are in a good position to make the WNIT. However, if the Spartans are able to knock off Michigan and finish the regular season by dispatching of Illinois and Penn State, who have a combined record of 3-27 in conference, then things could get really interesting on Selection Sunday for the Spartans. A win in the Big Ten Tournament would bring the Spartans to 19 wins, which would put them squarely on the bubble for a possible at-large berth to the big dance.

Nathan Stearns is a women’s basketball and field hockey beat reporter for Impact 89FM WDBM. Follow him on Twitter at @NathanStearns11.