Indianapolis, Ind.-- Led by Liz Shimek's 15 points and eight rebounds, the Michigan State Spartans (28-3, 14-2) won their first Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament Championship by defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers (24-7, 12-4) by a score of 55-49 at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The first tournament championship appearance for both teams, the contest also marked the first time that the schools had met in the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament.
Even with two of the league's and country's best inside forces facing each other, the pace in the early going was quick, with both teams opening the offensive sets whenever possible. A few fastbreak opportunities went by the wayside, but rarely did a possession extend deep into a shot clock.
Even though she did not attempt a shot in the Gophers' semifinal victory over Ohio State, Shannon Schonrock hit two early threes for Minnesota, scoring the team's first six points.
As both teams started settling into their game plans, the Spartans began to put a little distance between themselves and the Gophers. On the strength of seven Minnesota turnovers in the first ten minutes, Michigan State opened up a 10-point lead.
Despite an early double-digit deficit, the Golden Gophers were not discouraged. Like Schonrock did early in the game, junior Shannon Bolden scored Minnesota's next six points on two three-balls.
With an expected intense battle in the paint, defense ruled with neither center having a huge offensive impact in the first half. MSU's Liz Roehrig was saddled with two early fouls and only scored two first half points and Minnesota's tandem of Janel McCarville and Jamie Brobeck was held scoreless for the first half of the game.
Michigan State took the halftime lead with balanced scoring. Eight of the Spartans' nine players scored. Liz Shimek led the team with six points and five rebounds. Bolden and Schonrock paced the Gophers with six apiece.
After the first half saw 19 personal fouls assessed, the second half opened with three consecutive old-fashioned three-point plays, a basket and a free-throw, with Minnesota getting two and Michigan State one.
After closing the difference in the second stanza's opening minutes, Minnesota's Broback hit a jumper in the lane to tie the game at 28, the first tie since 3-3. Broback finished the game with a game-high 18 points.
Down four, with 13:47 remaining in the game, McCarville took a pass in the lane and hit the short jay to record her first points of the game. At the time, she had already corralled nine boards.
Just over a minute later, Broback hit two from the charity-stripe to give the Maroon and Gold its first lead of the game since the opening minute at 36-34. On the next possession, with the shot clock counting down, she drained a three to extend the Gopher advantage.
With the game clock at 10:45 and the shot clock at :05, Michigan State's Kristin Haynie attempted a jumper from the line. It hit the side of the rim and headed towards the corner, but Haynie tracked it down to collect her own rebound and extend a possession that eventually saw Roehrig cut the Gopher lead to three points.
With just under 5:00 left in regulation, Roehrig's second-chance bucket tied the game at 47. She finished the contest with 10 points and five rebounds.
In the second half, Michigan State's matchup zone continued to confound McCarville, the first-team All-Conference member finished the game with two points and 12 rebounds. Michigan State's Lindsey Bowen finished with 10 points.
Down four with time running down, Gopher April Calhoun grabbed an offensive rebound only to have her shot blocked by Roehrig who grabbed the ball and was fouled by McCarville. Roehrig hit both free-throws and to ice the contest at 55-49.
By earning the school's first ever Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament Championship, the Michigan State Spartans earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Selections for the tournament will be announced on Sunday, March 13th. Haynie was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Joining her on the All-Tournament Team were Roehrig, Broback, McCarville, and Ohio State's Brandie Hoskins.