February 5, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Terry Foster

Michigan State women gain edge over rival Michigan

East Lansing -- Michigan and Michigan State played a basketball game Monday night at Breslin Center and Tom Izzo and John Beilein did not show up.

Players wore pink and wove ribbons and headbands to keep the hair out of their eyes.

The final result was big sister beat little sister again, which is the way it's been around here for some time.

Michigan State rolled, 61-46, for its 12th straight victory over Michigan, and now the Spartans (18-4 overall, 6-3 in the Big Ten) will look for bigger game.

They can legitimately get back into the Big Ten race with a victory Sunday at Penn State (18-3, 8-1), which took sole possession of first place with a 69-61 victory over Purdue Monday.

"We have a tough one coming up with Penn State," Spartans coach Suzy Merchant said. "Obviously, they were very aggressive against us here so it will be a challenge on the road."

The Spartans got somewhat of a challenge from Michigan (18-4, 5-4) Monday. And in case you are wondering, there's friction between the Wolverines and Spartans women, although they seem more tolerable of one another than the men. That played out before the second half began when Spartan Courtney Schiffauer bumped Michigan's Nicole Elmblad on her way to inbound the ball.

If only looks could kill. Elmblad did not like it and one of her teammates grabbed her jersey, fearing she might take matters into her own hands. Later it was Elmblad who lowered the shoulder on Schiffauer in the lane.

"I think it is an intense rivalry," Michigan forward Nya Jordan said. "You are not obviously going to be the best of friends with them over the years. Coming into this game we had a strong will to win. I think in the second half, we lost that will."

Pressure from the jump

Maybe the Wolverines got tired. Or maybe they don't know how to counterpunch when the Spartans lower the boom.

Michigan is chasing Michigan State in the same way that Beilein chased Izzo. When Kim Barnes Arico took over Michigan's program she was reminded immediately about the 11-game losing streak to Michigan State. She was told to not wear green and was reminded that Wolverines don't like losing to Spartans no matter the sport.

"For the first day on the job and for people to be making those kind of statements about this game made me appreciate how really important this rivalry is," Barnes Arico said. "It's important to these kids in the state, the community, just everyone."

In the big picture, it does not mean much to most Spartans and Wolverines who wins in women's basketball. Let's not forget that football and men's basketball are paramount.

But these games mean something to the women and a subculture that follow women and Olympic sports. The bloggers and twitter bugs worked overtime to remind those who cared that the Spartans owned Michigan. That made Merchant nervous because she respects what they are doing in Ann Arbor.

"It (winning 12 in a row) is a stat that is accurate but it made me nervous," Merchant said.

From the sideline

Often we talk to male athletes from both sides of the fight and they use words like "hate" and "intensity" and "little brother." It's not as serious on the women's side, but there some juice to the rivalry.

"Hate is a strong word but it is definitely a rivalry," MSU center Jasmine Hines said. "It's just a big game for us. It meant a lot because we won the last 11."

There's an interesting sidebar to this game. Hines has struggled with her game. Teammate Madison Williams has played just three games in two seasons with the Spartans. She's out because of another knee injury. She wants to play but she also wants her teammates to succeed.

Williams stopped Hines in the layup and talked firmly but with a smile. She kept squatting down and raising her hands in the air while instructing her teammate to better times.

Williams could be seen on the court giving Hines some spirited to instruction before Monday's game. Before that lecture, Hines had made just 18 of her last 62 shots for an anemic 28.5 percent shooting percentage.

"Maddie is always there for you," Hines said. "You have to respect her input because she has been around for a long time. … It kind of helps to get my confidence back."

Hines made all three of her shots in the second half and looked like a different player. It didn't make a difference in the game. But this gesture might explain why the Spartans are queens of the court. Everybody appears to be all in to making this program great.

terry.foster@detroitnews.com

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Annalise Pickrel of Michigan State blocks a shot by Jenny Ryan of Michigan in the first half. Pickrel had five points and five rebounds. Ryan had two points and two assists. / Dale G. Young/Detroit News
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