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Spartans Look to Bounce Back Thursday at Northwestern

Kiana Johnson returns to her hometown Thursday, having led MSU in scoring in each of the last three games (18.7 ppg).

Jan. 30, 2013

Michigan State (16-4, 4-3) at Northwestern (10-10, 2-5)
 Date | Time Thursday, Jan. 31 | 8 p.m. ET
 Location Evanston, Ill. | Welsh-Ryan Arena
 Televison none
 Internet Coverage Live Broadcast on BTDN/Spartan All-Access (pay)
 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 | Northwestern | Big Ten
 Statistics Michigan State | Northwestern | Big Ten
 Video Suzy Merchant Weekly Press Conference
 Social Media @MSU_WBasketball   |  Facebook

The Wildcats are currently 10-10 on the season, including a 2-5 mark in the Big Ten. Northwestern has a balanced offensive attack with five scorers in the top-30 in the Big Ten in points, led by Kendall Hackney's 15.0 per game. Karly Roser is second in the conference in assists with 6.4 per game, but has also committed 5.1 turnovers a game. Dannielle Diamont is tops on the team with 7.6 rebounds.

MSU and Northwestern had no common non-conference opponents, but have each played Illinois, Indiana, Penn State and Purdue in conference play. The Spartans are 2-2 against that group, while the Wildcats are 2-4, having already played Illinois and Indiana twice.

Michigan State lead the all-time series with Northwestern, 38-22. The Spartans have won 17-straight games over the Wildcats, and 27 of the last 29 meetings. During the 17-game winning streak, the Spartans have won by a margin of 19.6 points per game and have held NU to 51.2 points per game. MSU has won seven in a row in Evanston.

Kiana Johnson and Becca Mills have had the most success offensively against Northwestern. Johnson averaged 10.0 points and Mills averaged 10.5 points in the two games against the Wildcats last year. However, the rest of the Spartan roster have totaled only 47 points in 24 career games against NU.

LAST MEETING (MSU 76, NU 57 - Feb. 26, 2012 - Evanston, Ill.)
Michigan State closed out the 2011-12 Big Ten regular season with a 76-57 victory over Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Porsche Poole led MSU with 22 points, while Lykendra Johnson posted 14 points and nine rebounds. Becca Mills had 12 points in 18 minutes off the bench, while Kiana Johnson posted 10 points, four assists and three steals.

The first half featured six ties and 14 lead changes, before the Spartans closed the half on a 6-2 run to take a 33-29 lead into the break. Michigan State opened up the second half on a 14-3 run over the first five and a half minutes, which extended to a 25-6 spurt over the first 10:22 of the half. The Spartans opened a 23-point lead (59-35) with the run, but it was eventually cut to nine (62-53) with 4:04 left. However, MSU bounced back by scoring 13 of the next 15 points to put the game away and close it out with free throws in the final minute.

QUICK HITTERS FROM SUNDAY (No. 15/13 Purdue 67, MSU 62 OT)
- Kiana Johnson led the Spartans in scoring for the third straight game, posting 19 points, five rebounds, a game-high five assists and two steals. Becca Mills had 11 points in only nine minutes, while Jasmine Thomas added 10 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Jasmine Hines led MSU with 11 rebounds, including seven offensive boards, and added a career-high three steals. Both Thomas (43) and Hines (36) played career high minutes.
- Early in the game, Michigan State used an 11-2 run to open its largest lead of the game at 17-9 with 10:42 until halftime. Purdue quickly followed with the next seven points and go into the break down only two, 30-28.
- With the game at 47 with 7:14 left, the Boilermakers ran off eight unanswered to go ahead 55-47. The Spartans responded with a 10-0 run of their own, including two 3-pointers from Johnson, to go ahead by two with 1:50 left. A KK Houser layup tied the game again, but Thomas answered with a layup of her own to put MSU ahead 59-57 with 1:21 to go. Purdue's Drey Mingo tied the game and would force overtime with a layup with 31 seconds left, as Thomas' last second jumper rolled out.
- Purdue scored the first points in overtime and never trailed, as the Spartans went 1-for-11 in overtime.
- The Spartans forced 21 Purdue turnovers and committed a season-low six, but shot only 30.5% from the field.
- The attendance of 10,095 was the largest this season and the 14th-best in program history.

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 29-17 (63.0%) in road conference games, the most wins in the Big Ten during that span. Only Nebraska (7-4) and Ohio State (25-22) 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 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.

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 121-52 (69.9%) in conference play over the last 10-plus seasons, trailing only OSU (130-43; 75.1%) in winning percentage.

During Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State has a 63-30 (67.7%) Big Ten record. The win total is second in the conference over that span (Ohio State-65), while her winning percentage is 11th-best in the 32-year history of the Big Ten Conference. More recently, MSU has won 38 of its last 50 Big Ten regular season games (76.0%) over the past three-plus 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.

In Coach Merchant's six seasons, the Spartans are 41-14 (74.5%) following a loss, including a 3-1 record this season.

The latest NCAA statistical report was released on Jan. 28. The Spartans were among the national leaders in many statistical categories. Michigan State was fifth in points allowed (49.3), 11th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.250), 16th in fewest turnovers (13.7), 18th in rebound margin (+8.9), 20th in field goal percentage defense (.343), 24th in fewest fouls (13.6) and 25th in scoring margin (+14.2).

The key to the Spartan success so far this season as been their ability to defend. Michigan State is fifth in the nation, allowing only 49.3 points per game. (Connecticut leads at 46.7 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, the Spartans have held 18 of its 20 opponents below their scoring 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.

Until last Thursday, Michigan State has been especially effective in shutting down the opposing team's leading scorer. Until Jordan Hooper posted 25 points on Thursday, each player had been held below their scoring average, by a combined margin of 7.1 points per game. The players also combined to shoot 29.8% (61-for-205) from the field.

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 +8.9 rebound margin, which is 18th in the country. MSU has out-rebounded 64 of its last 77 opponents, including 16 of the 20 teams this season.

Against Illinois (Jan. 13), Michigan State controlled the boards, 49-22. It was MSU's largest rebound margin since Nov. 12, 2011 against North Carolina A&T (+36), and its largest margin in a Big Ten game since Feb. 3, 2005 vs. Northwestern (+28).

Michigan State leads the Big Ten and is 11th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage defense (25.0%), while allowing only 70 3-pointers (3.5 per game) all season.

Over Coach Merchant's first five seasons in East Lansing, the Spartans have struggled with turnovers, averaging 17.6 per game. However, in the 2012-13 season, Michigan State has turned the ball over only 13.7 times a game, which leads the Big Ten and is 16th in the nation.

Coach Merchant has harped this 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 13.6 fouls per game (24th in the nation), and allowing only 12.2 free throw attempts per outing.

Despite being last in the Big Ten in free throw percentage on the season, the Spartans have been effective in the last two minutes of a game from the line. In the last two minutes, Michigan State is 81.6% (31-38) from the free throw line. Leading the Spartans, Kiana Johnson is 10-for-10 and Jasmine Thomas is 8-for-8, while Courtney Schiffauer is 5-for-6 (83.3%).

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 56-4 (93.3%), including winning their last 38 games, while when they hold opponents to 60 points or less, their record is 103-10 (91.2%).

The Spartans have been extremely effective closing out games over the last couple years, winning 72 of their last 73 games when leading with five minutes left, including an 18-1 mark last season and a 16-0 record so far in 2012-13. In Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State is 114-5 (95.8%) when holding a lead with five minutes left.

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 20 games this year, Bell is averaging 10.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 34.2 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, 36.0) and rebounds (12th, 6.5).

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 four times already this season - in each of the first two games, pouring in 19 points vs. UT Arlington and 20 at Eastern Michigan, then posting 21 points at NC State and 25 points vs. Iowa. Her 25 points vs. Iowa were the most by a Spartan since Jan. 29, 2012. 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.

Sophomore Kiana Johnson was an important figure off the bench for the Spartans since her return to the active roster, but slid back into the starting lineup on Sunday vs. Purdue. In her first 11 games, Johnson is second on the team with 11.2 points, and team highs with 3.6 assists and 2.2 steals in 29.1 minutes. She is also shooting 84.8% (28-for-33) from the free throw line.

Her play in Big Ten games this season has increased, leading MSU in points, assists and steals. Johnson ranks seventh in the conference with 3.7 assists and 2.6 steals, while scoring 13.6 points, which is 14th.

Johnson has led Michigan State in scoring in each of the last three games, averaging 18.7 points, including posting a career-high 22 points on last Thursday at Nebraska. She has also led the team in assists in four of the last five games. In the last two games, Johnson is 7-for-17 (41.2%) from the 3-point line, after starting the season 2-for-23 (8.7%) in first nine games.

For her career, Johnson is third in MSU history with a 1.61 assist-to-turnover ratio.

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 6.7 rebounds (which is 10th in the Big Ten) and 2.6 assists, while compiling a 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Her distribution of the ball has increase immensely over the last 15 games, averaging 2.5 assists during the span, including setting career highs three times, after averaging 0.9 assists through her first 96 games as a Spartan.

Over the last 12 games, Schiffauer has posted her first three double-doubles of her career. At Dayton, she posted a season-high 12 points and a career-high tying 11 rebounds; vs. IPFW, she tallied 10 points and 10 rebounds; and at Illinois she had 11 points and again tied her career high with 11 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 9.4 points (third on the team) and 5.5 rebounds in only 20.6 minutes. She also leads the team and is eighth in the conference with 2.7 offensive rebounds per game.

Hines leads all Big Ten reserves in total points and rebounds. Iowa's Melissa Dixon is second in points with 8.4, while Indiana's Sasha Chaplin is second in rebounds with 4.2.

Junior Annalise Pickrel started the first 19 games of the season for the Spartans, but was moved to a reserve role on Sunday vs. Purdue. The 6-3 forward is fifth on the team with 8.9 points, while adding 4.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.8 steals per game, and committing just 20 turnovers all year. Pickrel has already topped her single-season high in points, rebounds, assists and steals.

More importantly, Pickrel has become a threat from behind the 3-point line. She is 37-for-106 (.349) from 3-point so far this season, after making only 19 in her first two seasons (59 games) and shooting 30.2%. Her 1.9 3-pointers a game is ninth in the Big Ten, while her 3-point field goal percentage is 13th 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 is shooting 41.5% (22-53) from the 3-point line at Breslin Center, compared to 28.3% (15-53) in the other games this season.

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 second on the team with 3.2 assists and second with 2.0 steals, while ranking sixth on the team with 8.7 points and third with 5.6 rebounds. She ranks 13th in Big Ten in assists and 10th 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 11th in the league with a 1.1 a:to margin (64:56).

Thomas has made her last 12 free throws, and 29 of her last 33 (87.9%) attempts from the line.

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 4-6 all-time on January 31.



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