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Women's Basketball Hits the Road for the First Time in Big Ten Play

Senior Jasmine Thomas and the Spartans have won three-straight games in Assembly Hall.

Jan. 12, 2013

Michigan State (13-2, 1-1) at Illinois (9-6, 2-1)
 Date | Time Sunday, Jan. 13 | 4 p.m. ET
 Location Champaign, Ill. | Assembly Hall
 Televison Big Ten Network
Mike Wolf - play-by-play
Patricia Babcock McGraw - analyst
Kara Lentz - sidelines
 Internet Coverage Gametracker
 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 | Illinois | Big Ten
 Statistics Michigan State | Illinois | Big Ten
 Social Media @MSU_WBasketball   |  Facebook

The Fighting Illini enter the week as one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, sitting at 2-1 in the Big Ten and 9-6 overall. Over the past two weeks, Illinois has beaten No. 6 Georgia and No. 24 Ohio State, and lost by one to No. 14 Purdue in overtime. The Illini have been tough defensively, leading the Big Ten with 23.7 turnovers forced and 11.9 steals, including 29.3 turnovers forced and 17.7 steals in conference play. Two-time reigning Big Ten Player of the Week Karisma Penn leads Illinois with 20.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 2.5 blocks. Penn leads the league in rebounds and blocks, and is third in steals and fourth in points, while also ranking fourth in field goal percentage (53.6%). Alexis Smith is top of the Illini and third in the Big Ten with 5.7 assists. Amber Moore is second in the conference in free throw percentage (90.9%), third in 3-pointers made (2.9) and 10th in 3-point percentage (36.4%).

Michigan State and Illinois has one common opponent - Texas Tech. MSU squeezed past the Red Raiders in overtime 50-48 in Las Vegas, while the Illini lost to Texas Tech 75-56 in Lubbock.

Michigan State leads the all-time series against Illinois, 35-27. The Spartans have won 13 of the last 16 meetings, despite losing the lone meeting last season in East Lansing (71-62 in overtime on Jan. 26). MSU is 12-15 all-time in Champaign, but have won three-straight and seven of its last eight in Assembly Hall.

LAST MEETING (Illinois 71, MSU 62 OT - Jan. 26, 2012)
Michigan State fell 71-62 in overtime to Illinois to drop its fourth-straight game. Porsche Poole led Michigan State with 28 points, also adding three assists and three steals. Kiana Johnson chipped in 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

A sluggish start offensively by the Spartans, combined with a 9-0 run by Illinois late in the half, put Michigan State in a 35-21 hole at intermission. Michigan State scored the first 12 points of the second half, led by seven from Poole, and compiled a 21-2 run over the first eight minutes to open up a five point lead. The Illini came back and tied the game on five occasions, eventually taking a 56-55 lead with 1:12 to go. Poole came down and drilled a foul line jumper to put MSU back ahead at 57-56 with 54 seconds on the clock. After a shot clock violation, Poole hit only one of two free throws, allowing Illinois a chance to tie in the final seconds. Adrienne Godbold would make a putback layup with nine seconds left, forcing overtime. Illinois controlled overtime from the tip, going home with a 71-62 victory.

The loss snapped MSU's 15-game winning streak in overtime games. The Spartans last loss in overtime was on Feb. 28, 2002.

The Spartans are 3-2 under Coach Merchant in their first road Big Ten contest. All-time Michigan State is 13-18 in its conference road opener.

With the Spartans' 66-51 victory over Minnesota last 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.

A major factor in the Big Ten success of the Spartans under Coach Merchant has been their play away from Breslin Center. In the five-plus seasons under Merchant, MSU is 27-16 (62.8%) in road conference games. They are one of two schools with a winning road record (Ohio State is 25-19).

In Coach Merchant's five seasons, the Spartans are 40-13 (75.5%) following a loss.

- Becca Mills led the Spartans with 17 points, while playing a career-high 34 minutes. Mills made a career-high three 3-pointers.
- The loss snapped MSU's 11-game home winning streak, MSU's four-game winning streak over PSU and its five-game Big Ten winning streak.
- Penn State was the first MSU opponent to surpass its season scoring average. The Nittany Lions led the Big Ten with 74.2 points per game entering the game.
- MSU has still held each of its opponent's leading scorer to below their scoring average. PSU's Maggie Lucas was second in the Big Ten with 21.2 points, but was held to 12 points on 2-for-7 shooting. Lucas also led the nation with a 54.2% 3-point field goal percentage, but went 1-for-4.
- Both of MSU's losses this season were against ranked opponents.
- It was the first time in her career that the Spartans' lost when Jasmine Hines scored in double figures.
- Klarissa Bell, with nine rebounds, has led MSU in rebounds in each of the last three games (10.3 per game).

Sunday's loss to No. 9 Penn State sidetracked the Spartans' hot start. MSU began the season 13-1 for just the second time in program history (2010-11). The Spartans also won their 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. They are tied for the longest active streak in the conference with Ohio State. MSU is 118-50 (70.2%) in conference play over the last 10 seasons, trailing only OSU in winning percentage.

During Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State has a 60-28 (68.2%) Big Ten record. The win total is second in the conference over that span, while her winning percentage is 11th best in the 32-year history of the Big Ten Conference. More recently, MSU has won 35 of its last 45 Big Ten regular season games (77.8%) over the past three-plus seasons. Dating back to the end of last season, Michigan State has won eight of their last 10 conference games.

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. 11. The Spartans were among the national leaders in many statistical categories. Michigan State was second in points allowed (45.6), third in field goal percentage defense (.314), 10th in fewest turnovers (13.5), 11th in fewest fouls (12.8), 14th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.243), 16th in scoring margin (+17.9), 19th in rebound margin (+9.4) and 25th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.1).

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 45.6 points per game. (Connecticut leads at 45.5 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).

Until Penn State, Michigan State had held each of its opponents below its season average. Nine of those opponents were held to over 20 points lower than their season average. In total this season, including PSU, MSU's opponents have been held by an average of 18.8 points per game below their average.

MSU has held six of its 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 6.5 points per game. The players have also combined to shoot 29.1% (51-for-175) from the field.

Michigan State leads the Big Ten and is 14th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage defense (24.3%), while allowing only 53 3-pointers (3.5 per game) all season. Over the last 12 games, MSU opponents have combined to shoot 21.9% (40-for-183) from 3-point range.

LIMITING THE MISTAKES 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 10th in the nation. As a result, the Spartans are allowing only 8.0 points off turnovers, while in turn, posting 15.7 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 12.8 fouls per game (11th in the nation), and allowing only 11.3 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 15 games this year, Bell is averaging 10.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 33.7 minutes.

So far this season, Bell has stepped up as the team's offensive leader, leading the team with 11.9 points, ranking 19th in the Big Ten. She also ranks among the top-15 in the conference in minutes (fourth, 35.9), assist-to-turnover ratio (eighth, 1.4), rebounds (12th, 6.7) and assists (13th, 3.1).

Bell has increased her scoring 7.8 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 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals, while ranking fifth on the team with 9.1 points and third with 5.9 rebounds. She ranks 10th in Big Ten in assists and 11th 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 seventh in the league with a 1.5 a:to margin (60:41). Thomas has done all of this, while playing 34.8 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 15 games that she belongs in that role. The 6-3 forward is fourth on the team with 9.9 points, while adding 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.9 steals per game, and committing just 14 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 six 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 31-for-85 (.365) 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.

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 7.0 points, a team-best 6.9 rebounds (which is 10th in the Big Ten) and 2.8 assists, while compiling a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Her distribution of the ball has increase immensely over the last 10 games, averaging 3.0 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 10.1 points (second on the team) and 4.6 rebounds in only 19.8 minutes, while shooting 49.5% from the field, which is sixth in the Big Ten.

Hines leads all Big Ten bench players with her 10.1 points per game. Iowa's Melissa Dixon is second with 8.2 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 nine games, Mills is averaging 11.8 points and shooting 46.2% (42-for-91) from the field in 23.2minutes. She has also made 15 of her last 18 free throws (83.3%) and nine of her last 20 (45.0%) 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 20.1 points and 9.7 rebounds in 42.1 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 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 +9.4 rebound margin, which is 25th in the country. MSU has out-rebounded 61 of its last 72 opponents, including 13 of the 15 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.

As a team, the Spartans currently hold their highest cumulative grade point average in program history of 3.1735, after finishing the fall semester with a 3.0747 GPA.

Michigan State is 11-5 all-time on January 13.



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