Minneapolis, MN — Two Big Ten teams enter an arena with the same record (12-4), who comes out on top?
It was definitely not an easy battle, but the Minnesota Golden Gophers (13-4) proved they are a force to be reckoned with this season, trumping the Michigan State Spartans 83-77.
“I thought we came out ready to play this game and punched first," Minnesota guard Carlie Wagner said. "That’s what we always want to do, hit first. I was really proud of our team in how we came out this game, ready to play instead of waiting a quarter to start playing."
Michigan State’s backcourt ball-pressure and double-teams created difficulty for Minnesota guard Kenisha Bell bringing up the ball. The Spartans forced seven turnovers from Bell, but she retaliated by putting up 22 points with eight assists and seven rebounds, and five steals to send her opponents home with a loss.
Defensively, the Gopher’s 2-3 zone coverage compelled the Spartans’ to make telegraphed passes that Minnesota easily intercepted.
“I couldn’t be more happy with our defense. We forced 23 turnovers and we were just active all night," Minnesota head coach Marlene Stollings said after the game. "We really disrupted them from a defensive standpoint. I thought it really caused them trouble and we were able to go and capitalize on a lot of those turnovers.”
Michigan State forward Jenna Allen quickly became a threat from everywhere on the court. She would drive and pick up the foul on one play and swish a three the next.
But Bell was being the dynamite the Gophers needed. Her explosiveness off the dribble kept Spartan defenders on their toes. Bell played her role to the tee, making not only herself, but her entire team look good. She would either drive, beat her defender and take it all the way in, or when help-defensive collapsed, she would whip a quick over-the-head pass to the weak side for an uncontested lay-up.
Every single player was a weapon for Minnesota. Nine players on the Gopher roster scored, evenly distributing their total points, forcing Michigan State to never leave a player open on the court.
“I don’t think there’s a selfish player on our team,” said Stollings. “We are really connected on winning. This team wants to win, they want to get back to a NCAA tournament and they don’t care who gets the credit that night."
"It’s really special because it’s unusual to have a team like that.”
The Spartans maintained their presence in the game by utilizing shooters around the perimeter, like Allen and guard Taryn McCutcheon. Although Allen was dominant in the first half, she lost her momentum and didn’t get score again for the remainder of the game, ending with 12 points and eight rebounds. McCutcheon also ended with 12 points, all of which were three-pointers.
Michigan State guard Shay Colley was a silent point-production machine, putting up 12 points for the Spartans - eight from the free throw line.
The Gophers capitalized on Michigan State’s man-to-man defense, continuing to focus on their drive and dish strategy. Minnesota held the Spartans to just 13 points in the second quarter, which gave them a five-point lead at the half, that they maintained until the buzzer.
“We’re in control of the game, let’s stay in control,” said Stollings every timeout with her team in the second half. “Let’s make sure we take good shots, don’t take bad shots. Continue to challenge them at the basket.”
“We shot 32 free throws,” she said. “That was a big game goal for us in terms of aggressiveness.”
Wagner also commented on the team's energy and how they need to stay focused.
“Being consistent and maintaining this level we’re playing at right now and not taking a step forward and then two steps back,” said Wagner. “We just have to keep going up and up from here.”
Minnesota will look to keep their energy high and game-plan focused as they travel to Penn State on Jan. 10 at 6 p.m.
The Golden Gophers win BIG tonight against Michigan State, 83-77! Get the recap here!Posted by Swish Appeal Staff on Sunday, January 7, 2018