March 17, 2012
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) - Michigan State's senior forward Taylor Alton couldn't mask her anguish Saturday after a 67-55 loss to seventh-seeded Louisville in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Alton and fellow seniors Porsche Poole and Lykendra Johnson hoped to wrap up their careers at MSU with a final push toward a national championship. Instead, the trio struggled mightily in a defeat that was not nearly as close as the 12-point final margin.
Alton went 2 for 8 from the floor and scored four points, Johnson got into early foul trouble and finished with five points in 20 minutes, and Poole scored eight on 3-for-10 shooting.
"Disappointment. I don't think we went out the way we wanted to," Alton said. "Things just really didn't fall our way tonight. I think some of us just let it get into our heads a little bit."
It was the fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament for the senior class and the first one that ended without a win.
"I feel bad for our seniors. I'm not sure it was their best performances," coach Suzy Merchant said. "It's never how you want that to go, but we're really proud of what they accomplished this season, certainly in getting us to a place where we needed to be."
The 10th-seeded Spartans (20-12) went 8-2 down the stretch to qualify for the tournament. Once they got in, however, things went astray.
Louisville (23-9) pulled away with a 16-2 run in the first half that turned a 17-14 lead into a comfortable 33-16 margin. It swelled to 22 after halftime before Michigan State used a strong finish to make it respectable.
The Spartans were outrebounded 40-34 and went 3 for 16 beyond the arc.
"They just didn't fall tonight," Alton said, her voice breaking and her eyes welling with tears. "It's going to happen. Unfortunately, it was today. There's nothing we can do."
Alton wasn't the only one feeling the pain. Johnson also tried to hold back tears - unsuccessfully - when she fouled out with 1:29 left.
Klarissa Bell, a sophomore, led Michigan State with 12 points, seven rebounds and a team-high four assists.
"Coach Merchant looked at me during the first half when I was on the bench and told me I can't be passive if I want to stay out on the court," Bell said. "It wasn't good enough, obviously, because we didn't win. You can have a great game, but if you lose it doesn't matter."
Becky Burke scored 14 points, Shawnta' Dyer had 13, and Asia Taylor and Bria Smith added 10 apiece for Louisville, which led 39-23 at halftime.
Sara Hammond, who had nine rebounds, said Johnson's absence was a key to the victory.
"When Lykendra Johnson went out, we knew we could go at `em," Hammond said. "We knew we were stronger in the post position, and that just kind of boosted our confidence. I know for me personally it did."
The Cardinals spread their scoring around. The big first-half run including 3-pointers from Burke and Shoni Schimmel. When the Spartans threatened to come back with four straight points to open the second half, Burke made a pair of free throws and Smith had a steal in the backcourt and converted the layup to restore the 16-point lead.