Michigan State's Aisha Jefferson, left, and Bowling Green's Tara Breske battle for a loose ball.
Ed Reinke / AP Enlarge
LOUISVILLE - Michigan State presented an imposing test for Bowling Green State University in yesterday's NCAA women's basketball tournament opening-round game at Freedom Hall.
Not only were the No. 5 seed Spartans tall, led by 6-foot-9 senior center Allyssa DeHaan, they were physical in taking out the No. 12 Falcons 72-62.
"They are a huge team and very physical," said BG junior Lauren Prochaska, who finished with a game-high 19 points. "We were obviously at a size disadvantage in the paint. They really tried to take advantage of that by posting up their post players, as well as their guards tried to get us into foul trouble and get easy baskets.
"We battled and competed as hard as we could but eventually it just wore us down."
MSU's wide bodies owned the lane at both ends of the court. The Spartans finished with a 28-4 edge in points in the paint and outrebounded the Falcons 42-35.
Aisha Jefferson, a 6-1 senior, best represented the Spartans (23-9) when it came to staking claim of space near the rim. She finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, despite
playing with an upset stomach that forced her to sit out several minutes.
MSU guards Jasmine Thomas and Brittney Thomas provided 11 points each and DeHaan finished with eight points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Lauren Aitch, a 6-1 backup center, and 6-1 forward
Lykendra Johnson added 10 and nine points, respectively, to help dominate the inside.
"March magic," Jefferson said. "This time of the year every body is playing their best basketball. Tonight was my night, and another night it's going to be somebody else's night."
The Falcons (27-7) made 8 of 16 3-pointers in the first half to end up tied with the Spartans, 36-36, at the half.
However, the Spartans defense tightened on the inside, as well as the outside. They limited the Falcons to only six three-point attempts after halftime while MSU's offense continued to find success scoring in the paint.
BG finished 19 of 51 (37.3 percent) from the field.
"Their intensity that they brought in the second half when going to the offensive glass really wore us down," said BG coach Curt Miller, of the Spartans, who will face No. 4 seed Kentucky in a second round game on Monday night. "They were bigger, stronger, faster."
Jefferson nailed a 3-pointer to start the second half to give MSU the lead, which it held for the rest of the game. The Spartans led by as much as 13 points.
BG junior Tracy Pontius provided 15 points after sinking 5 of 8 shots from behind the 3-point arc. Jen Uhl and Tara Breske added seven points each.
Pontius, who made four 3-pointers in the first half, didn't find as many wide-open shot opportunities in the second half.
"They definitely came out and pressured us on and off the ball," she said. "I think their coach let them have it at halftime and that's why they came out so aggressive."
After falling behind 8-0 to start the game, the Falcons regrouped to score the next 15 points to take a 15-8 lead. Prochaska scored the first three baskets for BG, including a pair of 3-pointers. Her second basket from behind the arc made it 8-8 with 15:41 left in the first half.
Chrissy Steffen put BG in front, 11-8, when she drained a 3-pointer off an assist from Tamika Nurse with just over 14 minutes to play in the half. Baskets by Breske and Maggie Hennegan increased the Falcons' early advantage to seven points.
But the Spartans countered with another 8-0 run to take a 16-15 lead when - Jefferson put back an offensive rebound with 10:56 on the clock.
The game remained close through the rest of the first half. The score was tied six more times and neither team went up by more than four points before the break.
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