Every Hoosier fan became a Spartan for three hours when Michigan State beat No. 4 Michigan Thursday night. Come Saturday afternoon, they will staunchly deny it.
No. 7 Indiana women’s basketball, coming off a blowout 93-61 win over Illinois on Wednesday, is set to host Michigan State at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall at 3:00 p.m Saturday. Indiana is 9-1 in Big Ten play, and Michigan State is 7-5.
Both teams have struggled with consistency at times, especially with production from their players off the bench.
Sophomore forward Kiandra Browne and sophomore guard Chloe Moore-McNeil have seen considerably more playing time for Indiana recently, but they still don’t have the experience to be the most reliable players on the court.
Michigan State faced roster problems before the season even began, as two of its veteran starters sustained season-ending injuries in October.
“Michigan State has had a very unexpected season,” The State News women’s basketball beat reporter Jenna Malinowski said. “A strength they’ve had has been their ‘next woman up’ mentality, especially in the freshmen.”
Malinowski said the Spartans have specifically looked to freshman guards DeeDee Hagemann and Matilda Ekh to step up. Hagemann leads the Spartans with 122 assists, and Ekh is averaging 11.8 points and nearly two 3-pointers per game. Ekh scored two clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of Michigan State’s 63-57 upset over Michigan on Thursday.
“She always seems to be able to hit a clutch three when the team needs it,” Malinowski said of Ekh. “She has almost textbook shooting form, and when she starts up from behind the arc, there’s no stopping her.”
Ekh could very well be matched up against Indiana graduate student guard Ali Patberg, who is often tasked with guarding the opponents’ best perimeter players. Patberg, who is coming off a season-high 26 points against Illinois, was part of the defensive effort which held Illinois’ leading scorer to 9 points.
Malinowski said the Spartan that the Hoosiers should be most prepared for is senior guard Nia Clouden, who poses a threat everywhere on the court.
Clouden is averaging 21.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, and she is eighth in the country in scoring. She was recently one of ten guards in all of Division I women’s basketball named to the Nancy Lieberman Award Watch List and one of 17 named to the Dawn Staley Award Late Season Watch List.
Outside of Clouden’s team-leading performances, the Spartans have struggled offensively.
“One player could have an amazing night offensively, and the next day, they could not score a single point,” Malinowski said. “If every player would perform up to their potential all the time, the Spartans would probably have a better record right now.”
The Hoosiers, on the other hand, are able to distribute their offensive success so one player does not carry the team every single game. They’ve shown anyone can have a stellar night and influence the flow of the game. Most of the Hoosiers’ starters can be relied upon to score upwards of 10 points in most games, giving any player the chance to have a breakout night.
“I think the Spartans will have to work overtime on defense because they could be getting hit from all angles,” Malinowski said.
A faceoff between Clouden and graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary is very likely, as both are one of the most versatile and successful players on their respective teams. Both are expected to be among the top performers in Saturday’s game.
Cardaño-Hillary suffered what appeared to just be a minor ankle injury against Illinois after landing awkwardly on her right foot, but head coach Teri Moren said postgame she believed Cardaño-Hillary would be just fine for Saturday’s game.
With Michigan State’s victory over Michigan, Indiana retook the top spot in the Big Ten as the only team with one conference loss. Indiana hasn’t lost a conference game in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall this season, and it will look to continue that streak this weekend.
Follow reporters Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and Amanda Foster (@amandafoster_15), and columnist L.C. Norton (@ByLCNorton) for updates throughout the game and the rest of the Indiana women’s basketball season.
Location: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana
Radio: WIUX 99.1 FM, IU Radio Network