At practice Monday, Suzy Merchant asked her players if they’d ever heard of Tree Rollins.
Of course, they hadn’t, so Merchant gave an impromptu history lesson. Rollins had a long NBA career — even including a brief stint with the Pistons — and one year, 1994-95 with the Orlando Magic, he even served as a backup center and assistant coach.
So, how’s your jump shot these days, Suzy?
“Well,” Merchant said with a laugh, “not so good.”
Michigan State’s women’s basketball team (14-6, 4-3 Big Ten) is so injury-depleted, it dressed only eight players for its last game, a 69-65 loss to Indiana on Saturday. And Merchant isn’t optimistic she’ll have more than that for Tuesday's game against rival and No. 16-ranked Michigan at Crisler Center (7, Big Ten Network).
And here’s the real kicker: All the missing are guards. Shay Colley blew an MCL — after another injury, in which she need stitches on her toe after an incident taking out the trash. (Literally.) Claire Hendrickson has a knee injury. Lexi Gussert has a broken arm. Another guard had microfracture surgery, and another guard has a concussion.
How many could return Tuesday?
“Well, when are you running the story?” Merchant deadpanned. “It’s just bizarre.”
And it’ll make surging Michigan (17-4, 6-2 Big Ten) such a challenge, as it would’ve been anyway, with the Wolverines’ incredible balance — led by senior Katelynn Flaherty, the school’s all-time leading scorer, men or women.
Flaherty passed Glen Rice and was honored at the men’s game Sunday, with Rice on hand. And Tuesday, they’ll give away Flaherty Bobbleheads — even if her hair is darker now than it was when the Bobblehead was designed.
Merchant’s first glimpse of Flaherty was when she was a freshman, coming off the bench.
“And I was like, ‘Wow,’” Merchant said. “I don’t know if the kid’s ever had a bad game. She had a bad game, she got you 18.”
MICHIGAN STATE AT MICHIGAN
Tip-off: 7 Tuesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
TV: Big Ten Network
Records: Michigan State 14-6, 4-3 Big Ten; Michigan 17-4, 6-2
Outlook: Michigan senior Katelynn Flaherty is sixth in the country at 23.1 points per game. ... The Wolverines have won 17 of their first 21 for the first time in program history. ... The rivals will meet again Feb. 11 in East Lansing. ... Michigan State has won seven of the last nine in the rivalry series.