PORTLAND, Ore. – Watching her team on Thursday, Suzy Merchant thought of Nike founder Phil Knight’s talk with all the teams at this week’s PK85 tournaments named after him. He had spoken about how much he loved that sport taught life lessons and built character and the will to compete.
And looking out at the court as Michigan State played No. 5 Iowa State, she didn’t really see her team competing.
“I thought we played hard but we didn’t really compete. That’s a difference,’ Merchant said. “Anyone can play hard. Competition means hitting open shots, competition means getting that defensive rebound, competition means making your free throws. In my opinion, this team has to learn from that.”
“That” was an 80-49 loss to the Cyclones in the first round of the PK85 women’s four-team tournament, which also features No. 8 North Carolina and No. 18 Oregon — MSU’s next opponent — at 1 p.m. Sunday ET (on ESPN2).
MSU (6-1) struggled on the scoreboard for about a quarter on Thursday, trailing 16-12 late in the first quarter and then making a frenzied but futile attempt to make things interesting with a 14-6 run, to open the fourth quarter.
The Spartans’ problems began with their outside shooting — they only made 2 of 18 3-point attempts — and included problems at the post where 6-foot-6 Iowa State forward Stephanie Soares blocked six of their shots while she was Scored 23 points and pulled in 11 rebounds.
Iowa State All-American Ashley Joens was held to just eight points, but her teammates dominated every category, perhaps aided by the absence of MSU top scorer Matilda Ekh, who played for the Sweden national team on Thursday . She is expected back for Sunday’s game.
“I thought we defended better than we’ve defended all year,” said Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly of his team, considered one of the favorites to reach the Final Four. “The reason we came to this tournament was because we talked about how this is a tournament that has (an NCAA) regional flavor. … I have great respect for Suzy. She’s a great coach and a great person, and athletically, they pushed us to the limit. And I thought we handled it better than before.”
Sophomore DeeDee Hagemann led MSU with 14 points and three assists. Grad transfer Kamaria McDanel added 11 points and six rebounds for the Spartans.
“It was certainly just a night of disaster on offense,” Merchant said. “We were looking for someone who could stem the bleeding a bit. The depth was a good thing for us. But we didn’t face any adversity (until Thursday) and we didn’t have anyone to take shots.
“It’s just really disappointing how we didn’t get to play, especially in that second quarter which was killer. We couldn’t set up our press, if you don’t hit you can’t press.”
MSU’s third-place game on Sunday against the Ducks (at 10 a.m. local time) will be held at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum after Thursday’s game was played on the University of Portland campus.
Contact Graham Couch at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.