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Michigan State Women’s Basketball: Michigan preview, Minnesota recap

Additionally, Nia Clouden was named to the Nancy Lieberman Award watchlist and the Naismith Women’s College Basketball Player of the Year Midseason Team.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan Preview

The arch-rival is coming to East Lansing on Thursday night for the first meeting between the two teams this season. The Michigan State Spartans are set to host the No. 4/4 Michigan Wolverines tomorrow night for the team’s annual Pink Game with tipoff scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and the game being broadcast on the Big Ten Network. The teams will face off again on Feb. 24 in Ann Arbor.

Michigan arrives to the Breslin Center tomorrow night touting a 20-2 record overall with an 11-1 mark in Big Ten action. The Wolverines are riding an eight-game winning streak and are coming off a crazy 98-90 win over Iowa that saw an Iowa 36-point fourth quarter rally fall just short. The lone loss in Big Ten action for Michigan came Jan. 4 at Nebraska in a 79-58 beat down. The other regular season defeat came at then-No. 10 Louisville in a 78-40 stomping on Dec. 2.

The Wolverines are currently fifth in the league in scoring offense with 74.3 points per game and third in scoring defense, holding teams to just 59.6 points per game. UM also ranks third in the Big Ten scoring margin (+14.8).

Michigan is led in scoring by Naz Hillmon who ranks fourth in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 21.4 points per game. Hillmon also ranks fifth in the Big Ten in rebounding with 8.8 boards per game and second in field goal percentage at 58.4 percent.

Two other player for Michigan average double figures. Leigha Brown is scoring 14.8 points per game and leads the team in helpers with 3.4 assists per game, good for 12th in the conference in scoring and 15th in assists. Emily Kiser is averaging 10.0 points per game and is second on the team in boards with 8.4 rebounds per game, good for sixth in the Big Ten. Maddie Nolan leads the team and is ninth in the Big Ten for three-pointers made with 50 on the season. Nolan is averaging 46.7 percent from deep, having gone 50-of-107 from behind the arc. Nolan would rank second in the Big Ten, but she has not reached the league minimum.

Tomorrow night’s game marks the 95th all-time meeting between the two programs. Michigan State leads the series 72-22 and is 35-8 in East Lansing. The Spartans also lead the series in Ann Arbor 28-14 and in neutral court matchups 9-0. Unfortunately, the teams are 3-3 in the last six meetings, though the Spartans have won seven of the last 11 matchups and 10 of the last 16 overall. Michigan won the lone matchup between the teams last season, an 86-82 victory in Ann Arbor on Feb. 16, 2021 with the matchup in East Lansing being postponed twice before finally being canceled due to COVID-19 issues among both programs.

Minnesota Recap

The Spartans visited Minnesota Sunday for the second matchup against the Golden Gophers this season. Unfortunately, the game ended the opposite way of the Gophers’ visit to East Lansing earlier this season as MSU fell 71-60. The game marked the second-straight loss for the Spartans following a four-game win streak being snapped by Maryland last Thursday.

Senior point guard Nia Clouden posted her 13th 20-plus-point game of the season as she led all scorers in the matchup with 29 points. Clouden also went 6-for-14 from three-point range, marking her second-straight game with at least six three-pointers to go along with her four rebounds in the game. Freshman guard/forward Matilda Ekh also posted her seventh game in a row and 15th this season with double figures in scoring with 12 points.

The game got off to a lackluster start as Minnesota opened the matchup going 0-for-7 from the field and Michigan State going just 2-for-6. MSU woke up on offense faster, though, going on an 8-0 run at one point, led by two three-pointers by Clouden. The Spartans would lead 15-5 with just under three minutes remaining before Minnesota mounted a 6-0 run to make it 15-11 with MSU in the lead. and then the Spartans called a timeout. The Spartans would close out the first quarter up 17-14.

The Gophers tied the game up at 17 off a three-pointer to open the second quarter, and rode hot shooting by Alexia Smith to open up a 30-24 lead with 4:11 left in the half. MSU went over three minutes without a basket during the quarter. Michigan State headed into the locker room trailing 36-32 at the half.

Hot shooting continued for Minnesota to open the third quarter as the Golden Gophers went 6-for-6 to open the period. Leading 52-41 at the 5:46 mark, Clouden finally halted an 11-0 run with a pair of free throws. Cold shooting returned late in the quarter as both teams went over four minutes of game play with no field goals. Despite a lead of as much as 15 points at one time, the Spartans were able to fight back and cut it down to 59-50 thanks to a late three-pointer from Clouden to end the quarter.

Despite a hard fought effort that saw freshman point guard DeeDee Hagemann trim the deficit to just six points, Minnesota never let MSU get any closer. The Spartans moved to 12-10 overall on the season and 6-5 in Big Ten action with the loss.

Coach Merchant’s Postgame Remarks

Clouden named to Lieberman Watch List

On Monday, Clouden was announced as one of 10 points guard named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and WBCA Watch List for the Nancy Lieberman Award. Clouden’s inclusion follows her being named one of 20 players in the preseason to the watch list for the award.

The Lieberman Award recognizes the top point guard in NCAA Division I women’s college basketball. According to the award’s website, to be considered for this prestigious award, candidates exhibit the floor leadership, playmaking, and ball-handling skills of Class of 1996 Hall-of-Famer Nancy Lieberman.

Clouden currently ranks ninth in scoring in the nation, averaging 21.4 points per game. She is also third in the NCAA in made free throws with 134. Her performance against Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 20 that saw a school record setting 50-points is also the third-most scored by a DI women’s basketball player this season. Clouden is also one of four point guards in the Big Ten named to the watch list. The others include Northwestern’s Veronica Burton, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, and Maryland’s Ashley Owusu.

Clouden yesterday was also named to the Jersey Mike’s Naismith Women’s College Basketball Player of the Year Midseason Team.