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Michigan State women's basketball resumes action after COVID-related halt

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

By Friday afternoon, things were starting to get back to normal around Michigan State’s women’s basketball program.

After having their last three games postponed because of COVID-19 issues, the Spartans have been back to full team practices since Tuesday and putting the final touches on their preparation for a return to action at 4 p.m. Sunday when they travel to Wisconsin.

Michigan State women's basketball coach Suzy Merchant

“So far, so good,” coach Suzy Merchant said after the team practiced on Friday. “We plan on getting on that bus tomorrow and headed to Wisconsin at this point to play on Sunday.”

It’s been a difficult stretch around the Breslin Center these days. The Michigan State men’s team is in the middle of its own sort of shutdown with its last three games postponed, as well. The men’s team has had four players and one staffer test positive since Jan. 10, forcing the postponement of a road game against Iowa and home games with Indiana and Illinois, which was scheduled to be played on Saturday.

The women’s team, meanwhile, has had their own challenges and had road games against Illinois and Michigan called off, as well as Thursday’s scheduled home game with Indiana.

But while the men had multiple positive tests, Merchant said only one player on her team tested positive while others required multiple days of testing to be sure they weren’t also positive. It was because of that scenario that the medical staff suggested taking a break from games.

“We had one positive and we had some kids that wanted to be tested multiple times given what was going on,” Merchant said. “So, our medical team felt like the best thing we can do right now is to make sure that we take care of the kids that we have and make sure we don't have a huge outbreak. That was what was suggested to us, so we just listened and said, ‘OK.’ So, we still have somebody in quarantine right now.”

Since the shutdown, the Spartans have been going through small group workouts, or “roommate workouts,” as Merchant described them, in an effort to be as safe as possible. It was only on Tuesday that the team was able to come together for a full workout.

Merchant said she felt fortunate her team hadn’t lost any games until this point, saying the postponement of the Ohio State game back on Dec. 31 felt more like a typical Christmas break. However, she knows her players always knew something like this could happen.

“I think they want to be all in, but I think in the back of their mind, they're still nervous about what's going on,” Merchant said. “I've talked to several coaches around the country that are friends of mine and once you have a positive, it does kind of make everybody look around like, ‘Oh, man, that person was just in practice yesterday, am I going to be next?’ It’s just the mental side of all that is a little bit of a struggle.

“But I think just trying to have a good balance between making sure we're moving forward, to keep our conditioning level up, the love of the game and our skills where they need to be without losing some of that. At the same time, they don't like to practice too long without an opponent. These kids want to go play somebody, so I think that's just been a little bit difficult.”

How the Spartans (8-2, 3-2 Big Ten) respond once they get back on the court is anyone’s guess. Michigan State began the season with eight straight victories before losing two in a row at home to Maryland and Nebraska.

Getting a Wisconsin team that is winless in the Big Ten — the Badgers are 3-9 overall and 0-9 in the conference — might be the best break in the schedule. Still, Merchant isn’t exactly sure what to expect.

“We’ll find out, I think, on Sunday,” Merchant said. “I don't know. This is kind of all new to us, too. … I'm actually anxious to see how our team responds. I know some teams have just picked up where they left off and some you can kind of see the lag.

“I liked our practice today. It was a little up and down at times but I think that's just part of still getting back into it again with the kids. So, I don't know. Come Sunday at four I hope it's foot on the gas and everybody's competing and getting after it for sure.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau