In the game of basketball, there is no more efficient, high-percentage shot than one down low. And Thursday night, the Michigan State Spartans precisely proved that point.
Shooting 52 percent from the field and pounding the ball inside to senior forward Lykendra Johnson, the Spartans made their home in the post, as the Spartans’ forwards combined for 31 points.
“Well, I think we challenged Lykendra a bit there,” Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant said. “I think she’s such a team player that she’d rather be a complimentary player than a go-to player at times, so we sort of challenged her to be more aggressive out of the gates, and I thought she was obviously a post presence for us.”
Johnson set the tone for entire game, as the forward went 8-for-11 from the field en route to scoring 16 points while racking up seven rebounds. The Badgers didn’t seem to have an answer for Johnson all night as she muscled and bumped her way into solid position on the low blocks before the entry pass even reached her.
Johnson also showed surprising range for her position. At one point when the Badgers finally began to double her, she stepped off of a pick and roll only to square up and nail an 18-foot jumper with a smooth stroke rare for her position.
“I thought she was really sharp tonight,” Merchant said. “I felt like out of the gate she was really focused on the offensive end. She’s always going to give you everything she’s had defensively. … I was really proud of her tonight, and that’s what we need from our seniors.”
While Johnson had some solid post moves, perhaps the play of the Michigan State guards was more impressive. Besides their outstanding defensive effort to hold the best three-point shooting team in the conference to a 2-for-10 performance from beyond the arc, the Spartans’ guards tallied up an impressive 13 assists.
Many of the assists for the guards came on impressive dump down passes to the MSU posts off dribble penetration. The Badgers struggled all night to contain the Spartans’ guards from getting into the lane, only to pay in the form of a cross-court bounce pass to a cutting Spartan for an easy layup.
“They were smart,” Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “We didn’t make that extra pass, and they did. We can learn from that, but some of that is instinct to know to do that, and we haven’t quite learned that lesson yet. They have some nice ball-handlers who can create their own shot, and they have bigs who can shoot.”
The Spartans ran plenty of ball screens against the Badgers. Taking advantage of an overall size and strength advantage, the Badgers struggled to adjust. If the Badgers switched on a screen, they soon found a guard mismatched with a Spartans post player.
However, when the Badgers tried to shadow the screen, the Spartans’ forwards would kick it out for an open three. Coming into play once again was the Spartans’ size and athleticism, as all five Spartan players on the floor could guard any one of the Badgers.