Falcons set to tangle with Michigan State

Paul Barney and Paul Barney

Let the Madness begin.

For the 10th time in school history and first time since 2007, the BG women’s basketball team will be playing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament.

BG, the 12th-seed, will take on fifth-seeded Michigan State in the first round Saturday in Louisville, Ky. Tip off begins at 12:11 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN 2.

This is the sixth-consecutive season the Falcons have qualified for national postseason play, receiving the automatic bid to this year’s tournament after winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament last Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

BG enters the Big Dance riding an eight-game winning streak, and need nine if they want to advance to the next round.

Both BG and Michigan State have a brief history, having only played once since 1997.

The Spartans got the best of the Falcons in the 2008 Women’s National Invitation Tournament, winning 74-66 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

Though it was nearly two years ago, Jen Uhl remembers the type of team MSU has.

“I remember they were strong [and] they were fast. They’re a big team,” Uhl said.

The Spartans are led by their 6-feet-9-inch senior center Allyssa DeHaan, who averages 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.She has a total of 100 blocks this year and 502 for her career.

Forwards Kalisha Keane and Lykendra Johnson post 9.8 and 8.8 points per game, respectively, while Johnson leads the Spartans with 7.6 rebounds per game.

While MSU can beat teams inside the paint, there ability to defend the passing lanes makes for a tough one-two punch.

“They deny each and every pass, so they can force you into turnovers,” BG coach Curt Miller said. “They force you out of your comfort zone.”

And in the midst of an eight-game winning streak, getting forced out of their comfort zone is the last thing the Falcons want.Being comfortable on the court is nothing new to Uhl.

Whether she’s starting or coming off the bench, Uhl’s focus is on making a difference in the game.

“Whether I’m starting from the first minute or I’m starting from the 16th minute of the game, I’m going to try to make an impact every time I’m on the floor,” Uhl said.

As a team, the Falcons will have to make an impact for the entire 40 minutes, as the Spartans led the Big Ten in scoring defense (57.5 ppg), field goal percentage defense (35.1), 3-point field goal percentage defense (27.7) and blocks (5.78 bpg).

“They’re the most physical team in the Big Ten, so we have to be ready from the beginning to be able to handle that or they’ll disrupt us on both ends of the floor,” Miller said.