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Spartans Host No. 9 Penn State Sunday

Sophomore Kiana Johnson averaged 15.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in her two games against PSU last season.

Jan. 5, 2013

Michigan State (13-1, 1-0) vs. No. 9 Penn State (11-2, 1-0)
 Date | Time Sunday, Jan. 6 | 2:15 p.m.
 Location East Lansing, Mich. | Breslin Center
 Televison Big Ten Network
Lisa Byington - play-by-play
Stephanie White - analyst
 Internet Coverage 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 | Penn State
 Statistics Michigan State | Penn State
 Video Suzy Merchant Show: Spartan Women's Basketball All-Access - Episode 5
 Promotions MSUFCU Kids Day
Sophomores Post-Game Autographs
 Social Media @MSU_WBasketball   |  Facebook

The Nittany Lions enter the weekend ranked No. 9 in the nation in both polls and are 11-2 overall, fresh off a 73-69 victory over Northwestern in their Big Ten opener. Penn State moved into first in the Big Ten in scoring (74.2 points per game), so the Spartans will face the top offense in the conference for the second-straight game. PSU also leads the Big Ten in steals with 12.1 and turnover margin with a +4.5 edge. They are also second to MSU in rebound margin (+6.3) and second in 3-point field goal percentage (38.9%), which also ranks ninth nationally. Junior Maggie Lucas paces the Nittany Lions offensively with 21.2 points per game, which is second in the league and 13th in the country. She leads the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (54.2%) and is fifth nationally with 3.5 3-pointers per game. Senior Alex Bentley is first in the Big Ten and fourth in the country with 4.2 steals per game and leads the team with 4.4 assists. Senior Nikki Greene is the top rebounder at 7.5 per contest.

Michigan State and Penn State have one common opponent so far this season - Virginia Tech. The Spartans shut down the Hokies, 57-29 at home, while the Nittany Lions beat Virginia Tech 60-41 on the road.

Michigan State trails the all-time series against Penn State 24-13, but has had much better success against the Nittany Lions of late. MSU lost 21 of its first 24 meetings with PSU, but has won 10 of the last 13 games in the series, including the last four match ups. Coach Merchant is 8-2 against Penn State. All-time the Spartans are 8-8 at home against the Nittany Lions, but have won the last three games in Breslin and five of the last six.

The current Michigan State roster has totaled only 96 points in a combined 20 games. However, both Jasmine Thomas and Kiana Johnson scored their career highs against Penn State. Thomas scored 19 points in 22 minutes off the bench at PSU on Jan. 17, 2010, shooting 5-of-8 from the field (2-of-3 from 3-point) and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Johnson had 18 points in 28 minutes at PSU on Jan. 7, 2012, hitting a career-high three 3-pointers and going 7-for-8 from the free throw line. She also added five assists in that game and six assists in the later meeting against the Nittany Lions in Breslin.

Under Coach Merchant, Michigan State is 15-18 against ranked teams. Sunday will be MSU's second game against a ranked opponent this season, previously losing at No. 18 Dayton in December. Last year, MSU went 4-5 against teams in the top-25. Penn State will be the highest ranked Spartan opponent since No. 9 Miami came to Breslin Center on Dec. 1, 2011. The last top-10 win for Michigan State was Feb. 21, 2010 at No. 7/9 Ohio State. MSU is 4-4 in its last eight games against top-10 opponents.

Today's game will mark the second of at least seven games for the Spartans on the Big Ten Network this season. MSU is 32-19 all-time on BTN, including the 57-47 win over Temple on Dec. 29.

With the Spartans' 66-51 victory over Minnesota on Thursday, Michigan State won its third straight Big Ten opener and evened its record at 16-16 all-time in Big Ten openers. Under Coach Merchant, the Spartans are 4-2 in Big Ten openers. In its first Big Ten home game, MSU is now 22-10 all-time and 3-3 under Merchant.

- Bench production was key for Michigan State, as Jasmine Hines, Kiana Johnson and Akyah Taylor combined for 35 points.
- Johnson led the way with 17 points, adding four assists (no turnovers) and three steals. Johnson's 17 points were the second most in her career, one shy of her career high. She went 9-for-9 from the free throw line. It was the most makes by a Spartan this season and the most in her career.
- Hines was 7-for-11 from the field for 15 points in a career high 26 minutes. Klarissa Bell added 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds, while Jasmine Thomas posted seven points, eight rebounds, a game-high five assists and two steals.
- 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%, after posting only 20 points on 28.6% shooting in the first half.
- Minnesota entered the game first in the Big Ten and 23rd in the nation in scoring with 74.8 points per game, including 85.8 points over its last four games. Michigan State has held each opponent below its season scoring average.
- The Spartan defense held the Gophers to 33.3% from the field, including a 3-for-11 (27.3%) effort from behind the arc.
- MSU was +12 (45-33) on the glass, even though the Golden Gophers entered the game with a +4.9 margin.
- The Spartans had only three second half turnovers and just 12 for the game. Minnesota was forcing 17.7 turnovers per game.
- Michigan State improved to 37-20 all-time against Minnesota, having won five of the last six meetings. MSU is now 20-7 all-time against the Gophers in East Lansing. It is the lone meeting between MSU and Minnesota this season.
- Michigan State won its 11th straight game at Breslin Center and has won 39 of its last 43 games.
- Akyah Taylor set career highs with three points and six rebounds (three offensive) in a career high 13 minutes.

The Spartans are off to their best start in program history at 13-1, matching the start of the 2010-11 team, which ended up starting 16-1. MSU won its first eight games of the season for the first time in program history (1999-00 team won its first seven games). There are only three undefeated teams left in the nation, and the Spartans are one of 18 teams with one or fewer losses.

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. They are tied for the longest active streak in the conference with Ohio State. MSU is 118-49 (70.7%) in conference play over the last 10 seasons, trailing only OSU in winning percentage.

During Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State has a 60-27 (69.0%) Big Ten record. The win total is second in the conference over that span, while her winning percentage is ninth best in the 32-year history of the Big Ten Conference. More recently, MSU has won 35 of its last 44 Big Ten regular season games (79.5%) over the past three-plus seasons. Dating back to the end of last season, Michigan State has won five consecutive regular season conference games, and eight of their last nine.

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 latest NCAA statistical report was released on Jan. 4. The Spartans were among the national leaders in many statistical categories. Michigan State was second in points allowed (43.4), third in field goal percentage defense (.299), fifth in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.223), 11th in fewest turnovers (13.4), 11th in fewest fouls (12.5), 15th in scoring margin (+20.7), 22nd in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.1) and 25th in rebound margin (+9.7).

The key to the Spartan success so far this season as been their ability to defend. Michigan State is second in the nation, allowing only 43.4 points per game. (Connecticut leads at 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 12 games, the Spartans have held the opponents to an average of 22.2 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, Minnesota 23.8). Dayton entered the game fifth in the country, averaging 83.3 points per game, while NC State and Minnesota also top-25 in the nation, as the Wolfpack were 13th with 80.1 points and the Gophers were 23rd at 74.8 points per game.

MSU has held six of its first 14 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 6.3 points per game. The players have also combined to shoot 29.2% (49-for-168) from the field.

Michigan State leads the Big Ten and is fifth in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage defense (22.3%), while allowing only 46 3-pointers (3.3 per game) all season. Over the last 11 games, MSU opponents have combined to shoot 20.5% (33-for-171) 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 13.4 times a game, which leads the Big Ten and is 11th in the nation. As a result, the Spartans are allowing only 8.1 points off turnovers, while in turn, posting 15.9 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 12.5 fouls per game (11th in the nation), and allowing only 10.9 free throw attempts per outing.

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 14 games this year, Bell is averaging 10.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 33.6 minutes.

So far this season, Bell has stepped up as the team's offensive leader, leading the team with 12.1 points, ranking 21st in the Big Ten. She also ranks among the top-15 in the conference in minutes (fourth, 35.9), assist-to-turnover ratio (ninth, 1.4), assists (15th, 3.1) and rebounds (15th, 6.5).

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

Bell has increased her scoring 8.0 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, leading the team with 4.1 assists and 2.1 steals, while ranking fifth on the team with 9.4 points and third with 5.7 rebounds. She ranks 10th in Big Ten in assists and ninth 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 sixth in the league with a 1.5 a:to margin (57:39). Thomas has done all of this, while playing 34.9 minutes, which is 10th in the conference.

Junior Annalise Pickrel got her first career start in the opener vs. UT Arlington, and has proved in the first 14 games that she belongs in that role. The 6-3 forward is second on the team with 10.2 points, while adding 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.0 steals per game, and committing just 13 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 five 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 30-for-81 (.370) from 3-point so far this season, after making only 19 in her first two seasons (59 games) and shooting 30.2%. Her 2.1 3-pointers a game is seventh in the Big Ten, while her 3-point field goal percentage is ninth 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 43.6% (17-for-39) 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 7.4 points, a team-best 7.3 rebounds (which is eighth in the Big Ten) and 2.9 assists, while compiling a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Her distribution of the ball has increase immensely over the last nine games, averaging 3.1 assists during the span, including setting career highs three times, 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 10.0 points (third on the team) and 4.6 rebounds in only 19.5 minutes, while shooting 50.5% from the field, which is seventh in the Big Ten. MSU is 10-0 when she reaches double-digit points in her career.

Hines leads all Big Ten bench players with her 10.0 points per game. Purdue's Taylor Manuel is second with 8.3 points.

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 eight games, Mills is averaging 11.1 points and shooting 49.3% (37-for-75) from the field in 21.9 minutes. She has also made 11 of her last 12 free throws and six of her last 12 3-pointers.

Sophomore Becca Mills and Jasmine Hines have combined to play the majority of the minutes at the center position. The two have combined for 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds in 41.0 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 101-9 (91.8%).

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 +9.7 rebound margin, which is 25th in the country. MSU has out-rebounded 60 of its last 71 opponents, including 12 of the 14 teams this season.

The Spartans have been extremely effective closing out games over the last couple years, winning 69 of their last 70 games when leading with five minutes left, including an 18-1 mark last season and a 13-0 record so far in 2012-13. In Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State is 111-5 (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 245-82 (.749) at Breslin and have been even more dominant of late in its cozy confines, having won 11 straight and 39 of its last 43 games (.907).

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 5-6 all-time on January 6.



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