Badgers hit road looking for upset over Michigan State

Senior forward Marsha Howard recently became the seventh Wisconsin player to record 1,000 career points, and will finish her career at the Kohl Center Thursday night against Ohio State.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

With the Big Ten conference tournament just around the corner, teams will be jockeying for seeding, seniors will celebrate and participate in their last home games and as for those sitting on the bubble, every game counts.

After a disappointing performance against the Iowa, in which the potent Hawkeye offense shot a season-best 57.9 percent from the field, the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team takes the road one last time as it travels up to East Lansing, Mi. to square off against the Michigan State Spartans in the Breslin Center.

While the Badgers’ (2-13 Big Ten, 9-19 overall) position in the Big Ten rankings is seemingly all but set heading into the conference tournament next week, Wednesday night’s regular season finale serves as a great opportunity for the Badgers as a final tune-up before the team makes its postseason run. To get a win in the famed “Izzone” should prove to be difficult, however, as UW will have to spoil senior night for the Spartans (5-9, 15-12 ).

Health-wise, it has been an injury-plagued year for Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant as the Spartans have been forced to become inventive with their lineups, to say the least. Michigan State debuted its 12th different starting lineup of the regular season in its 79-69 loss last Wednesday to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Guards Taryn McCutcheron and Branndais Age and forwards Lexi Gussert, Victoria Gaines and Taylor Reimer all got the nod for the second game in a row, so perhaps the Spartans have found some consistency in their rotation.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly who the go-to option is for the Spartans as 11 different players have led the team in scoring through 26 games and eight Michigan State players are currently averaging six points or more. As of late, Victoria Gaines has proven to be a viable scoring option for the Spartans. The redshirt sophomore forward has been averaging 12.3 points per game and five rebounds per game. The Spartans also got fellow redshirt sophomore guard Shay Colley back against Nebraska after being sidelined for the last seven games with an injury. Colley stuffed the stat sheet in her return, compiling 15 points, five assists and four rebounds in the loss to the Cornhuskers.

In addition to Gaines and Colley, other notable contributors to the Spartan attack include McCutheron and Agee, who are averaging 10.4 and 10.3 points per game, respectively.

As for the Badgers, star forward Marsha Howard has been on a tear down the stretch, averaging 16.4 points in her last five games. The junior is shooting 49.5 percent from the field in conference-only games, good for sixth place among all Big Ten players.

In her last outing against Iowa, the other star in the frontcourt, senior Cayla McMorris posted her fifth career double-double finishing the game with 14 points and 11 rebounds. The two-headed monster in the frontcourt will certainly need offensive contributions from their teammates such as guard Suzanne Gilreath, who enters the game with 69 made 3-point field goals, which is tied for sixth for the single-season program record.

Like any game Wisconsin has played, defense will prove to be a deciding factor in the outcome of the game. The team’s identity has always been centered around defending the basketball and making it difficult for opponents to get initiatie offense and score. Currently, the Badgers rank fifth in the Big Ten in points average points allowed at only 67.3 points per game.

It’s been a grind for UW in a largely up-and-down season but the team still has tremendous opportunities to show its season-long improvement and make noise in the postseason. As of right now, Wisconsin is slated to be the 13 seed in the annual Big Ten women’s basketball tournament which runs from Feb. 28 to March 4 in Indianapolis, Ind.

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