By Drew Kamaski | @d_kamaski14
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan State advanced to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament for the 15th consecutive season and 20th time overall after defeating Wisconsin 70-63 Thursday night.
Senior guard Tori Jankoska led the Spartans with 22 points to increase her career total to 2,141, a Michigan State record. Jankoska has scored 675 points this season, the third-highest single-season total in school history.
Senior forward Taya Reimer scored 12 points with 12 rebounds for Michigan State, which outrebounded Wisconsin, 46-34. The sixth-seeded Spartans (20-10) advanced to a quarterfinal game Friday night against No. 3 Michigan.
Michigan State was victorious in the team’s first meeting with Wisconsin back on January 25 at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Spartans won decisively 81-57. This time, the underdog Badgers tested the Spartans throughout the contest and kept the score close.
Wisconsin (9-22) had advanced beyond the first round for the first time since 2013. The Badgers came off the tip ready to play and jumped out to a quick 12-4 lead. The Spartans struggled shooting early and connected on only 1 of 8 from the field in the first six minutes of the game.
“It’s kind of hard to sit out for a couple of days when the other team is in a rhythm,” Jankoska said. “I think as a team we had to find our rhythm defensively, get some stops, and we can get some transition buckets on the offensive end and settle in.”
Once Michigan State found its rhythm, the game turned into a tightly contested shoot-out. Wisconsin junior guard Cayla McMorris converted a crucial and-one just before the half, which gave the Badgers a 37-30 lead at the break.
Merchant addressed the defensive struggles that plagued her team throughout the first half in the locker room in an attempt to provide her team with the edge.
“Certainly our post defense we talked about,” said Merchant. “We talked about tactical things. Number one, our post defense wasn’t very good. We switched to our zone to try to deter some of those things with some traps.”
Those traps worked. The Spartans outscored the Badgers, 24-13, in the third quarter. Jankoska inspired Michigan State’s scoring spree with nine points in the third quarter.
“I think when you’re the only senior on this team,” Merchant said, “that there is an edge to you and that fear of it being the last game for you in the tournament is real.”
If fear motivated Jankoska, then it was a successful motivator. Although she made just 9 of 22 shots, Jankoska had seven rebounds, a blocked shot and had four steals. With the Badgers within two points, Jankoska’s 3-point shot gave the Spartans a 65-60 lead with 3:27 to play. Wisconsin never came closer than four points after that.
Jankoska was not the sole reason for the Spartans’ second-half performance. Reimer and junior guard Branndais Agee had outstanding second half performances. Agee finished with 14 points and recorded four rebounds and four assists. Reimer’s double-double was her third of the season.
“It was really positive for us to see her have a double-double,” said Merchant. “She’s been close a lot of times, but for her to step up and keep the ball alive and finish down there was really important for us.”
Michigan State had 18 offensive rebounds resulting in 22 second-chance points, 12 more than Wisconsin. Badgers coach Jonathan Tsipis did not blame a lack of effort for the lopsided rebounding numbers.
“In the second half, I thought Michigan State stepped to another level and challenged us on the glass,” said Tsipis. “We weren’t able to respond the way I would have liked, but it wasn’t anything to do with an effort or a competitiveness with our kids.”
Michigan State’s only previous meeting with Michigan this season was a 86-68 victory at Ann Arbor on Feb. 19. “It will be a tough game,” said Merchant. “They’re very well-coached and they’ve got some really, really good players.”