It hasn't been the ideal senior year for Lexi Gussert.
Breaking her arm last month has complicated things a bit for the Michigan State guard and kept her off the court for five games.
And seeing her team struggle over the last month because of the injuries it faced also has made things difficult and has taken its toll.
But Gussert hasn't stopped fighting and kept a positive attitude since returning to the lineup a few weeks ago. And she and teammates found some relief and had plenty to smile about Sunday
Gussert matched her season-high with 14 points while helping MSU to a 66-61 victory over No. 21-ranked Michigan at Breslin Center.
The win meant a little more for Gussert with about 70 members of her family from the Upper Peninsula in attendance for potentially her final game on the court in the in-state rivalry. Gussert's arm injury caused her to miss the meeting between the teams nearly three weeks ago that the short-handed Spartans lost by 26 in Ann Arbor. That loss was part of a six-game losing streak that MSU (15-11, 5-8 Big Ten) ended with Sunday's victory.
"I remember that game and remember looking down the bench, and I was like I cannot wait until I get back," Gussert said. "That was hard to watch, and I think our girls did a really good job too given our situation. We've just been fighting, and we keep coming up short. This was a really good win for us. We had a great fan base too.
"We've just got to keep carrying that forward."
Taryn McCutcheon, who was sidelined with a concussion and watched the first meeting between the rivals from home last month, also made a big impact for MSU. She had eight points and five assists and was part of a strong defensive effort against Michigan all-time scoring leader Katelynn Flaherty, who scored 20 points on 6 of 17 shooting and committed nine turnovers.
"That's probably the best I've ever seen anybody (guard her)," MSU coach Suzy Merchant said. "She can evade screens, she can get up underneath it and she can guard the ball.
"I thought that was the best I've seen for sure defensively."
Victoria Gaines hit a pair of free throws with 9.4 seconds remaining to help MSU hang on to avenge its earlier loss to the Wolverines and pick up its first win since Jan. 16.
"It's been eating us away since we played them last time and since I watched them play last time," McCutcheon said of the earlier loss to U-M. "I know everybody was really emotional about the last game because that rivalry just means so much to us.
"We're a really good team and that stretch of games really didn't show it that well. We just wanted to make sure that nobody forgot about us."
Hallie Thome scored 19 for Michigan (20-7, 9-5), which has dropped three of its last four.
Michigan got off to a strong start and jumped out to a 7-0 lead. But MSU responded and had a 10-point lead by the end of the opening quarter.
The Spartans never trailed from there and withstood a late surge by Michigan, which pulled within three late on a 3 by Flaherty.
MSU got a late defensive stop by forcing a shot clock violation, and then Gaines hit the late free throws.
"Any time we play them - especially here - regardless of what their roster says or what their injuries say, they're just a really difficult team to beat here," Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "That's how it is in the Big Ten, and that's what some of our kids are figuring out It's not easy to go on the road and win. Obviously, Gussert came out and she didn't play last time and she really helped them take that lead in the first half."