Former St. Joseph standout Sidney Cooks made her first NCAA Tournament appearance a memorable one.

Now a second-round matchup between a pair of former McDonald’s All-Americans from Wisconsin is all set.

Cooks, a 6-foot-4 sophomore forward for the Michigan State women’s basketball team, scored a team-high 21 points Saturday afternoon in the ninth-seeded Spartans’ nip-and-tuck 88-87 Chicago Regional first-round win over eighth-seeded Central Michigan in South Bend, Ind.

Michigan State (21-11) advances to face top-seeded Notre Dame, the pod’s host school and the defending national champion, on Monday at a time to be determined. The Fighting Irish, led by former Divine Savior Holy Angels standout Arike Ogunbowale’s 23 points, improved to 31-3 with an easy 92-50 first-round win over 16th-seeded Bethune-Cookman on Saturday.

Ogunbowale played in the McDonald’s All-American game in 2015, while Cooks did so in 2017.

The meeting came close to not happening, however, as Central Michigan rallied in the fourth quarter Saturday and nearly knocked off Michigan State.

The Chippewas outscored the Spartans 26-22 in the fourth quarter, but Michigan State redshirt junior Shay Colley made a driving layup with 7.6 seconds remaining to put the Spartans on top. Central Michigan’s Micaela Kelly missed a tough 15-footer at the buzzer, and the Spartans advanced.

Cooks came off the bench and gave Michigan State a terrific 25 minutes.

Her 21 points came on 10-of-14 shooting, including 1-of-3 from 3-point range. She also grabbed five rebounds, three offensive, to go with a game-high three blocks and a steal.

The 21 points matched a career high for Cooks.

“I’ve had a few good practices, just really focusing on finishing at the rim lately,” Cooks told the Lansing State Journal.

“Everyone knows I can shoot a jump shot and I can shoot a 3. I think my best games are when I start inside and catch the ball and score, instead of having to do a move every time. Coach has really been on us about catching and scoring. I was just focused on that and using my height and my speed as an advantage today.

“It really worked out. I’m glad I was able to make my shots.”

Said Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant: “(Sidney has) been practicing really well, and we felt like the size piece against Central Michigan was something we had to exploit, clearly. They high-ball screen and space you to death, and we can do some of that, too.”

Entering Saturday, Cooks was fifth on the team at 8.8 points per game, fourth with 4.2 rebounds per game and first in blocks with 28.

Mike Johnson

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