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Spartans Welcome Minnesota to Begin Big Ten Play

Junior Klarissa Bell is the only Big Ten player to average at least 12 points, six rebounds and three assists per game.

Jan. 2, 2013

Michigan State (12-1, 0-0) vs. Minnesota (11-3, 0-0)
 Date | Time Thursday, Jan. 3 | 7 p.m.
 Location East Lansing, Mich. | Breslin Center
 Televison none
 Internet Coverage Live Broadcast on BTDN/Spartan All-Access
Gametracker | Live Stats (Mobile Users)
 Radio WJIM 1240AM | Spartan Sports Network (Listen Live)
 Radio (Mobile) Broadcast available on Spartan Sports Network Mobile App: iPhone/iPad | Android
 Game Notes Michigan State | Minnesota
 Statistics Michigan State | Minnesota
 Video Suzy Merchant Show: Spartan Women's Basketball All-Access - Episode 5
 Social Media @MSU_WBasketball   |  Facebook

The Golden Gophers finished their non-conference schedule at 11-3, having won five in a row. Minnesota is playing just its second true road game (65-53 loss at Kansas). The Golden Gophers lead the Big Ten in scoring with 74.8 points per game, which is 23rd in the nation. They have scored over 80 points in each of their last four games (85.8 ppg in that stretch). Minnesota is also 12th nationally in field goal percentage (47.2%). Sophomore Rachel Banham leads the Gophers and the conference in scoring with 21.4 points per game, which ranks 13th nationally, but is also seventh in the league with 4.6 assists and third with 2.7 steals. Micaella Riche is second on the team with 12.9 points and first with 6.9 rebounds.

Michigan State and Minnesota have had one common opponent this season - Robert Morris. The Spartans beat the Colonials 68-35, while the Gophers knocked off RMU 82-60, both games were at home.

Michigan State leads the all-time series against Minnesota, 36-20. The Spartans are 19-7 in games in East Lansing, with MSU winning the last two meetings in Breslin Center. Coach Merchant is 5-5 against the Golden Gophers in her Spartan career.

Michigan State is 15-16 all-time in Big Ten openers, having won its last two. Under Coach Merchant, the Spartans are 3-2 in Big Ten openers. In its first Big Ten home game, MSU is 21-10 all-time and 2-3 under Merchant.

- The Spartans were led by 16 points from Annalise Pickrel, while Courtney Schiffauer added 10. Klarissa Bell had an impressive stat line with seven points, a career-high 13 rebounds, three assists (with no turnovers), a career-high three blocks and two steals in 37 minutes. Kiana Johnson had a team-best four assists off the bench.
- Temple scored the first two points of the game, but after a 3-point play by Pickrel, the Spartans never trailed the rest of the way.
- Michigan State's lead grew to as much as 15 late in the first half, 34-19 with 1:32 left.
- The Spartans held a 53-39 lead with 8:14 left, but was held scoreless for the next 7:18 as Temple cut the deficit to 53-47. The Spartans would not let the game get any closer as Bell and Thomas each knocked down two free throws in the final minute.
- The Spartan defense held Temple to 30.4% shooting and forced 17 turnovers. MSU held a 44-38 edge on the glass.
- Pickrel has led MSU in scoring in two of the last four games, the first two times in her career.
- MSU's 11 steals were the second-most in a game this season.
- MSU improved to 3-0 all-time against Temple.

The Spartans are off to their best start in program history at 12-1. Only three other Spartan teams have gone 12-1 in their first 13 games (2010-11, 2004-05, 1973-74) - only the 2010-11 team won its 14th game. MSU won its first eight games of the season for the first time in program history (1999-00 team won its first seven games).

10 FOR 10
After going 11-5 in the conference last season, the Spartans have now won at least 10 Big Ten games in 10-straight seasons. It is tied for the longest active streak in the conference with Ohio State. MSU is 117-49 (70.5%) in conference play over the last 10 seasons, trailing only OSU in winning percentage.

During Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State has a 59-27 (.686) Big Ten record. The win total is second in the conference over that span, while the winning percentage is 10th best in the 31-year history of the Big Ten Conference. More recently, MSU has won 34 of its last 43 Big Ten regular season games (79.1%) over the past three seasons.

MSU finished the Big Ten season tied for second with a 11-5 record last year. The Spartans have finished second or better in each of the last four seasons - winning the title in 2010-11, and placing second in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2011-12.

The key to the Spartan success so far this season as been their ability to defend. Michigan State leads the nation, allowing only 42.8 points per game. (Connecticut is second with 43.0 ppg) The Spartans are on pace for the third lowest single-season opponent scoring average, with the top-two marks occuring in the first two seasons on MSU varsity women's basketball - 1973-74 (38.4) and 1972-73 (38.9).

Michigan State has held each of its opponents below its season average, more impressively over the last 11 games, the Spartans have held the opponents to an average of 22.0 points below their average (Robert Morris - 18.5 points below, Albany 24.5, Virginia Tech - 24.0, NC State 29.1, Milwaukee 17.5, Oakland 21.7, Dayton 23.3, IPFW 23.8, Oregon State 28.5, Texas Tech 22.1, Temple 9.0). Dayton entered the game fifth in the country, averaging 83.3 points per game, while NC State was also top-15 in the nation (13th) with 80.1 points per game.

MSU has held six of its first 13 opponents below 40 points. It already is the second most games under 40 points in a season, trailing only the 1973-74 team (nine times). Entering this season, the Spartans had only held 32 opponents under 40 points in the first 1,124 games of the program.

Against Virginia Tech (Nov. 18) and Albany (Nov. 21), Michigan State allowed only 64 points combined. The total tied the sixth-fewest allowed in back-to-back games in program history. The five lowest totals were all during the 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons.

Michigan State has been especially effective in shutting down the opposing team's leading scorer. Each player has been held below their scoring average, by a combined margin of 6.7 points per game. The players have also combined to shoot 27.8% (40-for-144) from the field.

At Dayton (Dec. 8), the Flyers scored on its first possession, snapping a stretch of over 198 minutes in which the Spartans did not trail, dating back to the opening minutes against Albany on Nov. 21. Aside from that game (the team's lone loss), where MSU trailed for 18:41, MSU has trailed a total of 10:23 minutes in its other 12 games. The Spartans have not trailed in seven games this season.

Michigan State leads the Big Ten and is fifth in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage defense (22.1%), while allowing only 43 3-pointers (3.3 per game) all season. Over the last 10 games, MSU opponents have combined to shoot 20.0% (32-for-160) from 3-point range. Three of the last seven opponents entered the game ranked top-20 in the nation in 3-point shooting, and the Spartans were able to hold them in check. Dayton, who was 11th in 3-pointers made (8.2), went 4-for-16 (25.0%), while Oakland went 5-for-16 (31.3%) and Milwaukee was 5-for-29 (17.2%).

Over Coach Merchant's first five seasons in East Lansing, the Spartans have struggled with turnovers, averaging 17.6 per game. However, early on in the 2012-13 season, Michigan State has turned the ball over only 13.5 times a game, which leads the Big Ten and is 11th in the nation. As a result, the Spartans are allowing only 7.7 points off turnovers, while in turn, posting 16.4 points per game off their opponent's turnovers.

The Spartans low turnover numbers have helped to put them atop the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.1).

Coach Merchant has harped early in the season on the importance of keeping the opponent off the free throw and out of the bonus. So far, the Spartans have listened to their head coach, committing only 12.4 fouls per game (11th in the nation), and allowing only 10.8 free throw attempts per outing.

The latest NCAA statistical report was released on Dec. 30. The Spartans were among the national leaders in many statistical categories. Michigan State was second in points allowed (42.8), but has since passed Connecticut (43.0) for the top spot again. The Spartans are also third in field goal percentage defense (.296), fifth in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.221), 11th in fewest turnovers (12.4), 11th in fewest fouls (12.4), 15th in scoring margin (+21.2), 21st in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.1) and 26th in rebound margin (+9.5).

Growing up in East Lansing and being named Michigan's Miss Basketball as a high school senior, brought about high expectations for Klarissa Bell. However, through her first 48 games as a Spartan, she struggled to find a role and a spot on the floor. Bell averaged just 2.2 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.6 assists in 10.2 minutes during that time. However, she was inserted in the starting lineup on Jan. 29 (vs. Penn State) and started the final 11 games last year. As a starter, including the first 13 games this year, Bell is averaging 10.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 33.4 minutes.

So far this season, Bell has stepped up as the team's offensive leader, leading the team with 12.2 points, ranking 20th in the Big Ten. She also ranks among the top-20 in the conference in minutes (fourth, 35.5), assist-to-turnover ratio (ninth, 1.4), assists (12th, 3.3) and rebounds (17th, 6.3).

Bell is currently the only Big Ten player to average at least 12 points, six rebounds and three assists per game.

Bell has increased her scoring 8.1 points from last season (4.1 ppg in 2011-12), which is currently the second-best improvement in Spartan history and the second-largest increase from last year among Big Ten scorers.

Bell has set career highs in points three times already this season - in each of the first two games, pouring in 19 points vs. UT Arlington and 20 at Eastern Michigan, and then posting 21 points at NC State. In the opener vs. UTA, became the first Spartan in over 11 years (Kristen Rasmussen at Cincinnati on March 18, 2000 - 22 points, eight rebounds, six assists) to reach at least 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a game, and also the first MSU player to lead the team in points, rebounds and assists in the same game since Lykendra Johnson vs. Ohio State on Feb. 23, 2011.

An uncertain role for her senior season awaited Jasmine Thomas as the 2011-12 season came to a close. Thomas was replaced as the starting point guard by Kiana Johnson by the end of the season, and managed to average only 5.0 points and 1.8 assists, while shooting 33.9% from the field, in 21.4 minutes. However, the nine-game suspension for Johnson to begin this season, opened the door for Thomas to step up as the team's leader in her final season.

Thomas has done just that on both ends of the floor, ranking fourth on the team with 9.6 points, while leading the team with 4.0 assists and 2.1 steals. She ranks 10th in Big Ten in assists and and seventh in steals. Turnovers had been an issue for Thomas, maintaining a negative assist-to-turnover ratio over her first three seasons (160 assists, 183 turnovers), but this season, she is ninth in the league with a 1.4 a:to margin (52:37). Thomas has done all of this, while playing 35.2 minutes, which is sixth in the conference.

Sophomore Becca Mills struggled offensively over the first couple games of the season, but has turned it on of late, providing another weapon for the Spartan offense. Mills entered the season as MSU's top returning scorer (7.2 points) and rebounder (4.3), but was forced to move from the 4 to the 5 position due to Madison Williams' season-ending injury. It took her some time to adjust, as Mills averaged 7.3 points and shot just 29.8% (14-for-47) from the field in her first six games. Since then, a span of seven games, Mills is averaging 12.4 points and shooting 50.7% (36-for-71) from the field in 23.0 minutes. She has also made 11 of her last 12 free throws and six of her last 12 3-pointers.

Junior Annalise Pickrel got her first career start in the opener vs. UT Arlington, and has proved in the first 13 games that she belongs in that role. The 6-3 forward is second on the team with 10.5 points, while adding 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.0 steals per game, and committing just 12 turnovers all year. Pickrel has already topped her single-season high in points, assists and steals. Pickrel has led MSU in scoring in two of the last four games (IPFW, Temple), the first two times in her career that she has accomplished that feat.

More importantly, Pickrel has become a threat from behind the 3-point line. She is 28-for-75 (.373) from 3-point so far this season, after making only 19 in her first two seasons (59 games) and shooting 30.2%. Her 2.2 3-pointers a game is seventh in the Big Ten, while her 3-point field goal percentage is 11th in the conference. With the graduation of three seniors, and the early season suspension of Kiana Johnson, the Spartans needed someone to step up from behind the arc. Those four accounted for 70.0% of MSU's made 3-pointers in 2011-12.

Pickrel enjoys the shooting backdrop of the Breslin Center, as she is shooting 45.5% (15-for-33) from 3-point in MSU's six games at Breslin, compared to a 31.0% (13-for-42) mark in the other seven games.

Senior Courtney Schiffauer may not get all the recognition, but has been a vital part of the early season success for Michigan State. Having moved in and out of the starting lineup throughout her Spartan career, she has finally solidified her spot in the starting five this season. Her numbers have been solid across the board this year with 7.5 points, a team-best 7.5 rebounds (which is eighth in the Big Ten), 2.9 assists and 1.0 steals per game, while compiling a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Her distribution of the ball has increase immensely over the last eight games, averaging 3.3 assists during the span, including setting career highs in three of the last seven games, after averaging 0.9 assists through her first 96 games as a Spartan.

Schiffauer posted back-to-back double-doubles, the first two in her career, at Dayton and vs. IPFW. At Dayton, she posted a season-high 12 points and a career-high tying 11 rebounds, while vs. IPFW, she tallied 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Sophomore Jasmine Hines came to East Lansing as Michigan's high school career points and rebounds record holder. Thrust into a large role than expected as a freshman due to Madison Williams' season-ending injury, Hines was productive when she was on the floor. In only 10.3 minutes per game, she averaged 5.1 points and 2.5 rebounds, while shooting a team-best 54.2%.

Again a season-ending injury to Williams increased her playing time this season. So far this season, Hines is averaging 9.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in only 19.0 minutes, while shooting 48.9% from the field, which is 11th in the Big Ten. MSU is 9-0 when she reaches double-digit points in her career.

Hines leads all Big Ten bench players with her 9.6 points per game. Purdue's Taylor Manuel is second with 8.6 points.

Sophomore Becca Mills and Jasmine Hines have combined to play the majority of the minutes at the center position. The two have combined for 19.7 points and 10.1 rebounds in 41.1 minutes.

In head coach Suzy Merchant's tenure, when two numbers on the scoreboard were achieved it typically has been a sign of a MSU win. When the Spartans have scored at least 70 points, their record is 55-4 (93.1%), including winning their last 37 games, while when they hold opponents to 60 points or less, their record is 100-9 (91.7%).

Michigan State led the Big Ten for the third time in four seasons in rebound margin (+6.3) last year, which was 22nd in the nation. The Spartans have been top-40 in the country in rebound margin each of the last four seasons, getting as low as ninth nationally in 2010-11. This season, MSU leads the Big Ten with a +9.5 rebound margin, which is 26th in the country. MSU has out-rebounded 59 of its last 70 opponents.

The Spartans have been extremely effective closing out games over the last couple years, winning 68 of their last 69 games when leading with five minutes left, including an 18-1 mark last season and a 12-0 record so far in 2012-13. In Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State is 110-5 (95.7%) when holding a lead with five minutes left.

The 2012-13 basketball season is the Spartans' 24th inside the Breslin Center. MSU has an all-time record of 244-82 (.748) at Breslin and have been even more dominant of late in its cozy confines, having won 10 straight and 38 of its last 42 games (.905).

The Spartans broke their single-season attendance record for the second straight season last year, cementing themselves as one of the top programs in the country in regard to fan support. Last season marked the eighth straight season that the Spartans had been among the nation's top 15 in attendance, averaging 7,505 fans per game, which ranked eighth in the nation and second in the Big Ten. It was MSU's highest national ranking.

Michigan State is 3-4 all-time on January 3. The Spartans have played on this date only once since 1997, a 53-44 win over Indiana in 2010.



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