MSU women secure NCAA bid in Indy, but fall short of Big Ten final

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
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The Michigan State women's basketball team did what it needed to do this week in Indianapolis. The Spartans just didn't do everything they wanted to do.

With two starters out with injury, Michigan State still went toe to toe with Iowa for three quarters before running out of steam in an 87-72 loss in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Michigan State (15-8) went 2-1 in the tournament, sealing its NCAA Tournament fate, if it wasn't already set before the tournament even began. The Spartans will learn Monday night how they're seeding and who they'll play when the NCAA Tournament gets underway, completely in Texas.

"We had some kids that were banged up," coach Suzy Merchant said. "What you do is learn to grow up and find other people and find other ways.

Michigan State guard Nia Clouden (24) walks toward her bench as Iowa players begin to celebrate their 87-72 win.

"We did some good things, but we just need some more consistency out of our top kids."

Junior guard Nia Clouden, Michigan State's first-team all-Big Ten player, did what she almost always days, and led the way, with 24 points on 10-for-19 shooting, to go with seven rebounds. Sophomore guard Moira Joiner scored 10.

But there wasn't much beyond that, as Michigan State played without two of its starters, sophomore guard Julia Ayrault, and junior forward Tory Ozment.

Ayrault has been dealing with injuries, and Merchant wasn't expecting her to play. But Ozment was a last-second scratch with a sprain near her ACL. Doctors decided it wasn't worth the risk, especially with the NCAA Tournament looming. Those two players combine to average 15.9 points. Michigan State lost by 15.

Ozment was wearing a boot, but just as a precaution.

"It was the right thing to do," Merchant said. "The last thing you need is to go out there and try to fight through something, and the next thing you know, you're in surgery."

The Spartans needed others to step up, and they struggled to do so.

That included sophomore point guard Alyza Winston, who scored 23 in the first Big Ten tournament win over Penn State, and then 13 in Thursday's upset over Indiana.

She didn't score until late in the game Friday, finishing with four points on 2-for-13 shooting, 0-for-7 on 3-pointers. She missed her first nine shots.

BOX SCORE: Iowa 87, Michigan State 72

That's part of the growth process, Merchant said.

"I don't know," Merchant said, asked about Winston's rough day. "They were the same shots she knocked down yesterday. "She was a little bit flat."

Michigan State, the No. 7 seed, also was flat from the free-throw line, at just 8-for-20. The Spartans could've had a bigger cushion than they did at halftime, 41-40.

Monika Czinano led No. 6 seed Iowa (18-8) with 27 points on 12-for-16 shooting, Caitlin Clark had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and McKenna Warnock had 17 points.

Iowa will play No. 1 seed Maryland (23-12) in the championship game at 2 Saturday, the Terrapins going for their fifth Big Ten tournament title in seven years. The Hawkeyes are in the final for the first time since 2014, and haven't won it since 2001.

Michigan State hasn't won the Big Ten tournament since 2005, the year the Spartans made their longest-ever NCAA Tournament run, to the championship game. The Spartans will play in the NCAAs for the 10th time in the last 12 tournaments.

"This is the most important opportunity for us in the postseason," said Merchant, talking about her injured players, but also about the extreme need for extra diligent COVID-19 precautions in the coming days, "And we gotta go in there with all our horses."

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Big Ten women's tournament

At Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

TUESDAY

►No. 12 Illinois 67, No. 13 Wisconsin 42

WEDNESDAY

►No. 8 Nebraska 72, No. 9 Minnesota 61

►No. 5 Northwestern 67, No. 12 Illinois 42

►No. 7 Michigan State 75, No. 10 Penn State 66

►No. 6 Iowa 83, No. 11 Purdue 72

THURSDAY

►No. 1 Maryland 83, No. 8 Nebraska 73

►No. 5 Northwestern 65, No. 4 Michigan 49

►No. 7 Michigan State 69, No. 2 Indiana 61

►No. 6 Iowa 73, No. 3 Rutgers 62

FRIDAY

►No. 1 Maryland 85, No. 5 Northwestern 52

►No. 6 Iowa 87, No. 7 Michigan State 72

SATURDAY

►Championship, No. 1 Maryland (23-12) vs. No. 6 Iowa (18-8), 2 (ESPNU)

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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