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Women's Basketball Begins Big Ten Play Saturday

Kiana Johnson scored a team-high 17 points off the bench in last year's Big Ten opener vs. Minnesota.

Jan. 3, 2014

EAST LANSING, Mich. - The 2014 Big Ten season has arrived for the Michigan State women's basketball team. The Spartans begin play on Saturday, when they travel to Minnesota (11-3) for a 3 p.m. ET tip at Williams Arena. MSU has won its last three conference openers and were picked third in the Big Ten preseason coaches and media polls.

Michigan State (8-5, 0-0) at Minnesota (11-3, 0-0)
 Date Saturday, Jan. 4
 Time 3 p.m. ET
 Location Minneapolis, Minn. | Williams Arena
 Internet Coverage Big Ten Digital Network | Click Here to Watch 
 Radio WJIM 1240AM | Click Here to Listen
Keaton Gillogly - play-by-play
 Game Notes  Michigan State | Minnesota
 Statistics  Michigan State | Minnesota
 Social Media @MSU_wbasketball   |  Facebook

The Golden Gophers enter the Big Ten season with an 11-3 record, including a 8-1 mark in Williams Arena. Minnesota has been effecient from the field, leading the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (44.3%) and is second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (47.7%). Defensively, the Golden Gophers lead the conference and are top-20 in the NCAA in scoring defense (55.9) and field goal percentage defense (33.3%). Rachel Banham leads the Big Ten and is 10th in the nation with 21.2 points per game, while shooting a Big Ten-best 51.4% from 3-point, while making 2.6 per game. Redshirt freshman Amanda Zahui has made an immediate impact, averaging 14.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.5 blocks this season. Both her rebounds and blocks lead the conference, while her blocks are fifth and rebounds are 21st in the nation.

Michigan State leads the all-time series against Minnesota, 37-20, and have won five of the last six meetings. In Minneapolis, the Spartans are 14-12 with wins in two of their last three trips. MSU did not play in Williams Arena last season.

LAST MEETING (MICHIGAN STATE 66, MINNESOTA 51 - Jan. 3, 2013 - East Lansing, Mich.)
- Bench production was key for Michigan State, as Jasmine Hines, Kiana Johnson and Akyah Taylor combined for 35 points and 14 rebounds. Johnson led the way with 17 points, adding four assists (no turnovers) and three steals. Hines was 7-for-11 from the field for 15 points. Klarissa Bell added 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
- Michigan State trailed by as much as six in the first half, but closed the half on a 7-2 run to go into halftime tied at 20.
- The Spartans posted the first five points of the second half and would eventually go up eight (38-30) with 12:35 left. The Golden Gophers scored the next nine points to retake the lead at 39-38 with 9:26 to go. However, MSU quickly responded with a 10-2 run of their own to go back ahead and would not look back.
- The Spartans scored 46 second half points, shooting 57.1% from the field.
- It is the lone meeting between MSU and Minnesota last season.

Michigan State is 16-16 all-time in Big Ten openers, having won its last three, including a home 66-51 win over Minnesota last season. Under Coach Merchant, the Spartans are 4-2 in Big Ten openers.

- In its non-conference finale, the Spartans never trailed, but the game was close for the first part of the first half, as MSU led by only three (14-11) with 11 minutes to go until halftime. MSU would go on a 15-2 run over the next six minutes, capped by a Jankoska 3-pointer, to go ahead 29-13. Late in the half, the Spartans would score nine unanswered to push their lead up to 25, before going into the break up 44-21.
- The Raiders scored on their first possession of the second half, but Michigan State scored the next 17 points to blow the game open. The Spartans kept the pressure up for all of the second half, eventually getting their lead up to as many as 54 (93-39).
- The Spartans shot 50.0% from the field, including a 10-for-20 effort from the 3-point line, while holding the Raiders to 25.4% from the field and 21.4% (3-for-14) from behind the arc. MSU held a 55-35 advantage on the glass.
- Tori Jankoska scored a season-high 25 points, the ninth-most points by a Spartan freshman. She went 7-for-12 from the field, including 6-for-9 from the 3-point line, while also adding four assists, to no turnovers, and two blocks in 32 minutes off the bench.
- Jankoska's six 3-pointers tied for the fourth-most in a MSU single-game, and were the most since Taylor Alton also made six on Jan. 7, 2012 at Penn State. It was the second-most in a game by a freshman.
- Joining Jankoska in double-figures was Branndais Agee (13), Klarissa Bell (11) and Aerial Powers (10).
- Agee and Powers led the team with nine rebounds apiece.
- Kiana Johnson led MSU in assists for the third-straight game, dishing out six.
- MSU's 22 assists were a season-high and the most since dishing out 24 vs. Milwaukee on Dec. 1, 2012.
- The 50-point margin of victory was the 11th-largest in program history and was the largest since beating North Carolina A&T by 53 points on Nov. 12, 2011.
- Madison Williams had a season-high seven points and a career-high eight rebounds in only 11 minutes.
- It marked the first meeting ever between MSU and Colgate.

Michigan State is off to its best offensive season under head coach Suzy Merchant. The Spartans are averaging 76.5 points and have a 44.6% field goal percentage. The points per game average is more than nine points better than any Merchant-led MSU team (the 2010-11 team averaged 67.3 points) and the field goal percentage is also the highest during the Merchant era (the 2008-09 team shot 42.1%). Currently, the 76.5 points per game would be the second-best in program history, just 0.3 points lower than the 1996-97 team that averaged 76.8 points.

Already this season, the Spartans have scored 80 or more points in six of their 13 games. The total is the most in a season since 2005-06 and already the 10th-most in a single-season. In Merchant's previous six seasons, Michigan State reached 80 points only 17 times in 202 games.

Michigan State has stepped up its defensive effort over the last four games, holding its opponents to 56.2 points, 30.0% field goal percentage and 24.2% from 3-point, compared to 68.4 points, 40.5% field goal and 38.3% 3-point shooting in its first nine games.

Against Georgetown, junior Kiana Johnson became the sixth different Spartan this season to post a double-double. MSU is the only school in the Big Ten with six different players with a double-double (three schools have had three different players). In Michigan State history, it is the first time that a team has had six different double-doubles.

For the year, MSU has eight total double-doubles. All of last year, the Spartans only had four. Johnson's double-double was the first by a Spartan using assists since Kristin Haynie on March 27, 2005 vs. Vanderbilt.

Michigan State's offensive numbers at home and away have been drastically different. In the seven home games, the Spartans are averaging 87.3 points, while shooting 49.0% from the field and 41.7% from 3-point, where they made 8.3 per game. However in its six games either on the road or on a neutral floor, MSU is scoring only 64.0 points, and shooting 39.0% from the field and 25.8% from behind the arc, with 5.2 3-pointers per game. In addition, their rebound margin at home is +13.1, while +0.2 on the road, and their assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.3 (19.1-15.1) at Breslin and 0.88 (14.5-16.5) on the road.

Individually, redshirt freshman Aerial Powers leads the team in Breslin Center scoring with 16.4 points and rebounding with 8.9, but has posted only 10.0 points and 6.0 rebounds outside of East Lansing.

Getting to the free throw line this season has been integral in the success of the team. The Spartans are 8-0 this season when going to the line more than their opponents, while losing all five games when the opponent has more attempts. In the eight wins, Michigan State is averaging 26.8 free throw attempts and putting the opponent to the line 16.3 times, while in the losses, MSU is only attempting 11.2 per game and allowing 22.2.

Michigan State has had to rely heavily on the production of three freshman early on in the 2013-14 season. Branndais Agee, Tori Jankoska and Aerial Powers have all started at least one game and all have played a prominent role this year. The trio has combined to produce 41.6% of the Spartan offense, as Powers (13.5 points) and Jankoska (11.5) rank second and third on the team. The percentage is the highest in head coach Suzy Merchant's seven seasons. In the Big Ten, the percentage is third this season, trailing Indiana (52.6%) and Northwestern (48.9%).

Patience and progression have been two common words to describe Klarissa Bell's playing career at Michigan State. Growing up in East Lansing and being named Michigan's Miss Basketball as a high school senior, she came to MSU with high expectations. 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, Merchant inserted her into the starting lineup on Jan. 29, 2012 vs. Penn State and she has started every game since.

As a starter, Bell has helped Michigan State to a 41-17 record, while averaging 9.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 33.8 minutes.

Each season, Bell has seen progression in her stat lines, including averaging career highs of 10.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks as a junior. Her points and rebounds led the team, while her blocks were second, and her assists and steals were third. Because of a shortened bench, Bell was relied upon to play extended minutes, ranking fourth on the MSU single-season list in minutes (1,196) and sixth in minutes per game (35.2). Her play earned her third-team All-Big Ten honors, and placed her on the coaches' preseason All-Big Ten team.

This season, Bell is fifth on the team with 8.6 points, but is second in assists (3.5) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6), fourth in steals (0.9) and rebounds (5.1). She is sixth in the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio and 12th in assists.

The Spartans' success last season was weighed heavily based upon Bell's play. In Michigan State's 25 wins, she averaged 12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and shot 45.1% from the field, while in the nine losses, she scored only 6.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and shot just 29.5%. So far this season, the trend has continues, as in the eight wins, Bell is averaging 9.9 points and 4.0 assists, while shooting 47.5%, and in the five losses, she is averaging 6.6 points and 2.6 assists, while shooting 29.5%.

Senior Annalise Pickrel made a huge breakthrough last year in her junior season. After averaging 3.3 and 2.5 points in her first two seasons, Pickrel increased her scoring output to 9.3 points per game, which tied for third on the team. Her +6.8 point increase ranked third in the Big Ten last season.

Pickrel has begun her senior season on a high note, building off her success last season. Through 13 games, she leads the team with 13.6 points and 1.2 blocks, in addition to averaging 6.9 rebounds (second on the team), 2.6 assists (third on the team) in a team-high 32.7 minutes. Pickrel is shooting 49.6% from the field, 47.1% from the 3-point line (24-for-51) and 84.4% (27-for-32) from the free throw line, all career highs. Among Big Ten players, Pickrel ranks among the top-20 in the Big Ten in nine different categories, including fourth in 3-point field goal percentage, 10th in rebounds and minutes, 11th in blocks, 3-pointers, free throw percentage and offensive rebounds, 13th in field goal percentage and 19th in points.

So far this season, Pickrel has reached the 20-point plateau in three games, after doing so only once in her first three seasons.

In the season opener at No. 6 Notre Dame, Pickrel posted her first career double-double (11 points and 12 rebounds), while also setting career highs with 12 rebounds and five assists, both team highs. With her stat line, Pickrel became the first Spartan since Kalisha Keane on Dec. 8, 2007 vs. Indiana State to tally at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a game.

Her greatest asset the last two seasons has been her production from the 3-point line. Leading the team in both categories each season, Pickrel ranked ninth in the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage (36.7%) and 3-point field goals made per game (1.8) last season. Pickrel made a career-high 65 3-pointers, which is the seventh most in a Spartan single season. Entering that year, she was just 19-for-63 (30.2%) from the 3-point arc in her first two seasons at MSU. This season, she is fourth in the conference at 47.1% and 11th with 1.8 3-pointers.

Pickrel is currently 10th in Spartan history with 108 3-point field goals made, while ranking fourth with a career 37.1% 3-point field goal percentage.

Junior Kiana Johnson has orchestrated the Spartan offense through her first three seasons in green and white. Johnson has led MSU in assists in each of her first two seasons, and ranks fourth on the Spartan career list with 4.4 assists per game. She has been equally careful with the ball, posting a career assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.03 (297:146), which is currently first in the MSU record books. So far in 2013-14, Johnson is 32nd in the nation, third in the Big Ten and leads the team with 5.8 assists per game, and leads the conference and is third in the country with a 4.3 assist-to-turnover ratio.

In her last eight games (having led MSU in assists in seven of those), Johnson has totaled 54 assists to only 10 turnovers (5.4 assist-to-turnover). Against IPFW, Johnson dished out a career-high 11 assists; the total tied for the eighth-most in a single game, and was the most by a Spartan since Donita Johnson vs. Indiana on Feb. 5, 1999. She also had double-figure assists vs. Georgetown on Friday, en route to her first career double-double. It was the first double-double using assists by a Spartan since Kristin Haynie on March 27, 2005 vs. Vanderbilt. Also, Johnson became the first Spartan since Tamika Matlock in 1996-97 with multiple double-digit assists games in the same season.

An honorable mention All-Big Ten choice last season, Johnson has also been effective scoring the ball, averaging 9.3 points as a sophomore, tying for third on the team. She led MSU in free throw percentage (81.6%) and was second in 3-point field goal percentage (33.0%). Defensively, Johnson led MSU with 1.9 steals last season, and currently is 15th on the MSU career steals list at 1.7.

Freshman Tori Jankoska made a quick impression on the 2013-14 Spartan season. Jankoska is third on the team with 11.5 points, and broke out of a shooting slump on Sunday vs. Colgate. Jankoska scored a season-high 25 points, after totaling 20 combined pointsin her previous five games. Her total was the ninth-most all-time by a Spartan freshman. In the game, Jankoska went 6-for-9 from 3-point, marking the fourth-most in a single-game and the second-most by a freshman. She had made only seven 3-pointers (7-for-40; 17.5%) in her previous eight contests.

Jankoska was the first Spartan freshman ever to begin her MSU career with four-straight double-figure scoring games.

At Temple, Jankoska gathered her first career double-double with team-highs of 19 points and 11 rebounds, a season high. She also went 10-for-12 from the free throw line, the most free throws made by a Spartan since Feb. 6, 2011 (Brittney Thomas vs. Purdue). Against Dayton, Jankoska and redshirt freshman Aerial Powers each scored 24 points. It was the most points scored by a Spartan freshman since Kalisha Keane scored 24 points in the WNIT Championship game vs. Marquette on April 5, 2008. Jankoska came to Michigan State with a laundry list of high school accolades, highlighted by being named a PARADE High School All-American, Michigan's Miss Basketball and Michigan's Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year. She shattered Freeland's career scoring record, totaling 2,333 points, while averaging 24.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 3.6 steals in her career. As a senior, she averaged 30.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 4.8 steals.

Redshirt freshmen Branndais Agee and Aerial Powers returned from season-ending injuries last season. Agee, a high school All-American, played in only five games last season, averaging 2.8 points and 3.6 rebounds in 13.2 minutes, before tearing her right ACL. Powers, who was a top-100 recruit and a two-time Michigan AP Class B Player of the Year, missed the entire season after tearing the Achilles tendon in her left ankle during preseason practice.

Both players are expected to be major contributors this season, but Powers has been the first to make an immediate impact. She is second on the team with 13.5 points, which is 20th in the Big Ten, and leads the team with 7.5 rebounds, which is eighth in the conference, and 2.1 steals, which is fourth. She is also is averaging 2.2 assists in just 25.1 minutes.

Powers has earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors twice this season, becoming the first Spartan to do so. Over her last seven games, she has posted three double-doubles, while averaging 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in 27.8 minutes.

Powers has also been getting to the free throw line more often of late, shooting 25 free throws (6.3 per game) in the last four games, compared to 28 (3.1 per game) in her first nine games. She is also shooting 76.0% in her last four, compared to 57.1% in her first nine.

Powers had her best statistical output of the season vs. IPFW, posting her first career double-double with game-highs of 28 points and 14 rebounds. Her points were the most by a Spartan freshman since Nov. 29, 2006 (and the second-most all-time by a freshman) and her rebounds were the most by a MSU freshman since Jan. 22, 2009. Powers followed it up with another double-double at Florida State with 19 points and 10 rebounds. She became the first Spartan since Courtney Schiffauer on Dec. 8 and 16 last season to record back-to-back double-doubles, and the first MSU freshman to do so since Lykendra Johnson on Feb. 8 and 12 in 2009.

Agee has been up-and-down so far this season. Against Detroit, she became the first Spartan freshman to post a double-double since Lykendra Johnson at Indiana on Feb. 12, 2009. Agee led MSU with 17 points and 11 rebounds, both career highs, in a career-high 23 minutes. For the season, Agee is averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in only 14.6 minutes. She also leads the team with a 50.0% field goal percentage.

Early in the 2013-14 season, junior Becca Mills was asked to fill a lot of minutes in the post due to some early season injuries. Head coach Suzy Merchant has praised Mills' offseason work ethic and early season effort. In her first two seasons, Mills has totaled 552 points (8.2 points per game), so she is accustomed to shouldering the expectations.

Mills has been up-and-down so far this season, as she has yet to put together more than two good games in a row. For the season, she is fourth on the team with 8.9 points and third with 5.8 rebounds in 24.2 minutes. Her best game this season came at Virginia Tech (Dec. 7), where she exploded for 19 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, for her first career double-double.

Junior Jasmine Hines came to East Lansing as Michigan's high school career points and rebounds record holder, but her minutes have been limited over her first two seasons at Michigan State. However in those minutes, her production has been effective, averaging 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in only 13.9 minutes. Hines has led MSU in field goal percentage in each of her first two seasons.

Hines returned to the lineup for the first time this season at Florida State, after missing the first seven games due to a concussion. For the season, she is averaging 3.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in 11.7 minutes, and is slowly working back into more significant minutes.

Nov. 23 marked the long-awaited return to the court of 6-7 center Madison Williams. The former McDonalds All-American suffered three ACL injuries over the past three seasons, limiting her to three career games entering this season. Williams stepped onto the court against Rice for the first time since Nov. 15, 2011 to a standing ovation from the Breslin Center crowd. In her five minutes of action, she went 3-of-4 from the field for six points, while also adding a rebound, a block and a steal.

After playing only one minute in the next game at Temple, Williams missed the next three games before returning against Oakland. She played six minutes, grabbing three rebounds and blocking two shots. Williams was back to playing steady minutes over the last three games, clocking 13 against Oklahoma State, and 11 vs. Georgetown and Colgate.

So far this season per 40 minutes, Williams is averaging 14.5 points, 14.5 rebounds and 6.8 blocks.

Michigan State led the Big Ten in rebounds margin for the third-straight season, and for the fourth time in the last five years, last season. The Spartans have been top-40 in the country in rebound margin each of the last six seasons, getting as low as ninth nationally in 2010-11.

After getting out-rebounded by 23 in its opener at Notre Dame, Michigan State has a +9.7 rebound margin in its last 12 games. For the season, the Spartans are +7.2 on the glass to rank third in the Big Ten. They are also third in offensive rebounds (12.7) and offensive rebound percentage (34.4%), and second in defensive rebound percentage (72.2%).

MSU has out-rebounded 85 of its last 104 opponents (81.7%), including nine of its 13 opponents this season.

The Spartans led the Big Ten in conference games last season with a +6.3 margin. MSU has led the league in three of the last five seasons in conference games only.

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 64-5 (92.7%), but had a 44-game winning streak snapped when reaching that number vs. IPFW. Also, when they hold opponents to 60 points or less, their record is 114-11 (91.2%).

The Spartans have been extremely effective closing out games over the last couple years, winning 88 of their last 89 games (98.9%) when leading with five minutes left, including winning 39 games in a row. In Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State is 130-5 (96.3%) when holding a lead with five minutes left.

A major factor in the Big Ten success of the Spartans under Coach Merchant has been their play away from Breslin Center. In the six-plus seasons under Merchant, MSU is 31-20 (60.8%) in road conference games, the most wins in the Big Ten during that span. Only Nebraska (12-4) and Ohio State (28-23) have a winning road league record over the last six seasons.

MSU has had a winning road Big Ten record in each of the last four previous seasons (6-3 in 2008-09 and 2009-10, 6-2 in 2010-11, 5-3 in 2011-12). During that time, the other 11 Big Ten schools have combined for only 12 winning road seasons.

Last season, Michigan State went 25-9 marking the 10th-straight season that the Spartans have won at least 20 games. The streak is the longest active streak in the Big Ten (Penn State is second with three-in-a-row). Entering this season, MSU is one of 11 teams in the nation to have won at least 20 games in each of the last 10 seasons - Baylor, Bowling Green, Connecticut, Duke, Green Bay, Marist, Middle Tennessee State, Stanford, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

The Spartans' 25 wins were the third-most in program history (2004-05 - 33 wins, 2010-11 - 27 wins).

The Spartans finished the Big Ten season at 10-6 and in a tie for third place last season. Michigan State has now won at least 10 Big Ten games in 11-straight seasons. It is the longest active streak in the Big Ten (with Penn State second at three). MSU is 127-55 (69.8%) in conference play over the last 11 seasons, trailing only Ohio State (136-46; 74.7%) in wins.

The Spartans have now finished third or better in the conference in each of the last five seasons - winning the title in 2010-11, and placing second in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2011-12. In all, MSU has finished no worse than third place in eight of the last nine years.

During Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State has a 69-33 (67.6%) Big Ten record. The win total is second in the conference over that span (Ohio State-71), while her winning percentage is 12th-best in the 32-year history of the Big Ten Conference. More recently, MSU has won 44 of its last 59 Big Ten regular season games (74.6%).

Michigan State made its fifth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance in 2012-13, and its 10th in the last 11 years. Overall, the Spartans qualified for their 12th straight postseason. The five appearances in a row tie the longest stretch in program history. MSU has won at least one game in eight of its last nine NCAA Tournament trips.

MSU is one of 19 schools in the country (and one of only two in the Big Ten) to make the NCAA Tournament the last five seasons - Baylor, Connecticut, DePaul, Duke, Fresno State, Georgia, Gonzaga, Green Bay, Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan State, Middle Tennessee, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, South Dakota State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.

In Coach Merchant's first six-plus seasons at MSU, the Spartans have gone 148-67 (68.8%). Her winning percentage is the 10th-best all-time among Big Ten coaches, and second among active conference coaches. Entering the year, her 140 wins were the fourth-most by a Big Ten coach in their first six seasons. During her span, the 148 wins are second among Big Ten schools, trailing only Ohio State (156). Merchant has won at least 20 games in nine-straight seasons, not including the shortened 2006-07 season due to her maternity leave. In her career, she has 10 20-win seasons.

In conference games, she is 69-33 (67.6%), ranking her 12th all-time in career winning percentage in Big Ten games and second among active coaches. During her Spartan career, her 69 conference wins are second to only Ohio State (71).

Last season was Suzy Merchant's sixth trip to the NCAA Tournament, posting a 5-6 record. She has guided the Spartans to the last five tournaments, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2009 and the second round in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Merchant ties Joanne P. McCallie for the most NCAA appearances as a MSU head coach (five). Over the last five NCAA Tournaments, her five wins are second among Big Ten schools (Purdue has six). Merchant also took Eastern Michigan to the tournament in 2004.

In head coach Suzy Merchant's first six seasons at Michigan State, a total of 20 Spartans have earned All-Big Ten honors, leading the conference in that span. In addition, MSU has had five major award winners, four Big Ten All-Freshman team recipients and four Big Ten All-Defensive team honorees. Last season, Klarissa Bell was a third-team All-Big Ten choice by the coaches, while Bell, Jasmine Thomas and Kiana Johnson were honorable mention selections by the media.

Michigan State is 18-2 in overtime games over the last 11 seasons in overtime games. The Spartans had won 15 straight before a loss to Illinois on Jan. 26, 2012.

Michigan State is 5-4 all-time on January 4.



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