Michigan State 81, Rice 68
Nov. 23, 2013
Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant
On Madison Williams’ return…
She makes a big difference. We were only supposed to play her one minute in the first and one minute in the second. That was the doctor’s orders, but it ended up being extended because I actually had to call a timeout to get her out in the first half. I would love to play her longer and the strategic plan would just be to play her 20-30 minutes a game, but we’re not cleared to do that right now. Tonight was about getting her out there and getting her a chance to play with people around her a little bit; to get comfortable. We wanted to do that at home. I felt like she was ready. You can obviously see why I’ve been so frustrated not having Madison Williams for the last three years. She’s very effective. I can tell you that I could start her or play her 40 minutes a game, but I was really only allowed to play her two and we got five.
We’ve been getting closer [to playing her]. Our target date was December, but she’s gotten a lot stronger. They felt like she was ready, but more importantly she felt like she was ready. Her knees felt good. We’ve got a more NBA-type thing going right now where she’s been shooting a lot and a walk-thru of things. We talked with her Wednesday night after our Detroit game with her family, all the doctors and trainers. There wasn’t a person in there that didn’t have their hands on her somehow. We felt like this would be a good opportunity and we took advantage of it. We felt more comfortable against this team than maybe a more mid-December team. Madison had kind of struggled against guard-like teams that will bring her away from the basket. She feels uncomfortable with people coming in there that are little and small trying to box her out. That’s when she struggles a little bit, but Rice had some post players that played more traditional-style basketball; so we felt like this might be a better opportunity.
I think when you look at Maddie, she’s helped us more than we’ve helped her. I don’t know if there’s a stronger, more courageous, more spiritually-faithful person out there on this campus that represents any student-athlete more than Madison does as a character person. It’s been a long time coming. I think from our perspective, I don’t know if we’ve done as much for her as she’s done for us and helped us through it. So many people would not have done what she’s doing, but there are so many really neat stories out in college athletics, too. Her fighting spirit is what college athletics is all about. I was thinking about it today, we need to have some shirts made up that say “Spartans Will-iams,” because she exemplifies everything that statement means, that Spartans will. It’s very inspiring. It’s been a long road, but the credit is all to her for sure.
On Annalise Pickrel…
I was very worried about putting her on 30 (Jessica Kuster), putting her or Klarissa (Bell) on her. That kid’s as good as they get. She’s a double-double every night. She’s very effective. I was worried that whoever was on her would get two quick fouls and sure enough. When we don’t play with Annalise, it makes it difficult because she’s so versatile. She can post. She can fade. She can shoot it. She can handle it. She just brings a sense of calm to us. I thought that we struggled in the first half without her, but it was really nice to see her be able to bounce back and play more minutes in the second half with two fouls.
On Becca Mills…
Becca’s worked really hard this off-season. She’s got a big body, but she’s worked on that fade-away and those hook shots that she’s gotten really comfortable with and fit within her style of game. It was nice to see her be aggressive in there. I thought we did a good job of feeding her early, and then we kind of lost her when she came back in at the end of the first half. I thought she was effective. Madison was effective and then when we put her back in for Maddie the rest of that half, she wasn’t even out there. We have to continue to ride people and understand when they’re hot, we have an advantage. I thought Becca was the one and I thought we struggled to understand that at times. I was very proud of her though. She’s worked really hard.
Michigan State redshirt junior Madison Williams
On playing five minutes tonight …
Well the plan was to play a minute, literally 60 seconds in the first half and 60 seconds in the second half, but basketball’s not a game where you can just stop the clock just because someone needs to get subbed. I’m not even sure how much I played that first time out there. I did know [that she was going to play]. We had discussed it after the Dayton game; I felt really ready. I felt really prepared and I was really emotionally. I just can’t really take sitting on the bench anymore when you feel prepared. We didn’t announce it just because it was going to be so minimal, such a small amount of time and who knows what it would look like or what would happen so we didn’t really want to give it too much press. I was so excited. I think my teammates were more excited than I was tonight.
On how her knees feel after the game …
They feel good now. They feel good; just the regular post game. I only played a couple minutes, so it wasn’t like I did a whole lot. It was a lot for me because I don’t really practice besides my own stuff; I don’t go live in any drills. I feel good, but it will just depend on how we’re going to move forward. We haven’t even thought about the next game yet, there’s been so much emphasis on this one.
On the weight off her shoulders now that she’s played in a game …
Such a huge weight off. All I’m thinking right now is I’m so thankful. God is so good to me just that I can get out there and I’m safe. He kept me safe in that game. I guess the entire time leading up to the game and sitting down on the court waiting to go in, I’m just trying to pray for trust in His plan and that I’ll be okay regardless of what happens and just the opportunity. Standing up, and I was too scared to look at the crowd, but I heard them and hearing everybody behind me was just such an incredible feeling and I was trying not to cry. It was just an awesome feeling and such a weight off. Now it’s like, OK I did that and I can take confidence from my preparation and just keep moving forward. Every game, it’s going to be like that for a while.