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Spartans Looks for Revenge at No. 8 Penn State on Sunday

Sophomore Kiana Johnson posted 18 points and five assists in MSU's win at Penn State last season.

Feb. 8, 2013

rv/- Michigan State (18-4, 6-3) at No. 8/9 Penn State (19-3, 9-1)
 Date | Time Sunday, Feb. 10 | 2 p.m.
 Location University Park, Pa. | Bryce Jordan Center
 Televison ESPN2
Adam Amin - play-by-play
Swim Cash - analyst
 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 | Penn State
 Statistics Michigan State | Penn State | Big Ten
 Video Suzy Merchant Show - Episode 7
 Social Media @MSU_WBasketball   |  Facebook

The Nittany Lions sit atop the Big Ten at 9-1, and rank No. 8 in the latest Associated Press poll and No. 9 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll with a 19-3 overall record. Penn State has won 17 straight games at home with its last loss coming to MSU last season. The Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in scoring with 73.0 points per game, led by Maggie Lucas' 19.8 points, which is third in the conference. PSU also leads the conference in 3-point shooting (38.8%), as Lucas tops the Big Ten with a 47.8% mark and is second with 2.9 3-pointers per game. Defensively, PSU is first in the Big Ten in turnover margin (+5.0) and second with 11.5 steals and 20.5 turnovers forced. Alex Bentley leads the league with 3.6 steals per game. PSU is also second to MSU in rebound margin (+6.1) led by Nikki Greene's 8.8 rebounds, which is third in the conference.

Michigan State trails the all-time series against Penn State 25-13, 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 14 games in the series, despite losing earlier this season. Coach Merchant is 8-3 against Penn State. In the Bryce Jordan Center, Merchant is 4-1, having won there the last two seasons. Before her arrival, MSU was 0-13 in University Park.

LAST MEETING (No. 9 PSU 76, MSU 55 - Jan. 6, 2013 - Breslin Center)
- 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 (and one of only two all season) to surpass its season scoring average. The Nittany Lions led the Big Ten with 74.2 points per game entering the game.
- It was the first time (and only time) in her career that the Spartans' lost when Jasmine Hines (12 points) scored in double figures.

- Michigan State used a 18-2 run over the end of the first half and the beginning of the second to propel them towards a 61-46 victory over Michigan at Breslin Center.
- The Spartans wore their pink uniforms tonight as part of their Play4Kay pink game.
- Michigan State improves to 61-15 in the series against Michigan, having won 12 in a row and 20 of the last 21 meetings.
- MSU is 32-6 all-time in East Lansing against Michigan, and has won 11 straight in Breslin Center.
- Since the beginning of the 2002-03 season, MSU is now 37-1 against in-state opponents.
- MSU held Michigan to its second lowest point total of the season and its lowest in Big Ten play.
- Michigan entered the game sixth in the nation and No. 1 in the Big Ten with 6.8 3-pointers. MSU held them to 3-for-20 (15.0%).
- Michigan's Kate Thompson entered the game ranked No. 2 nationally in 3-pointers (3.7) and No. 6 in 3-point field goal percentage (45.6%), but was held to 2-for-10 from behind the arc.
- Six Spartans scored at least eight points, led by Becca Mills' 12 points off the bench and Courtney Schiffauer's nine points and nine rebounds. Klarissa Bell, Kiana Johnson and Jasmine Thomas all added nine points, and Jasmine Hines had eight. Bell and Johnson led with four assists each. Johnson has led MSU in assists in six of the last seven games and it was the most assists by Bell in a Big Ten game this season. Annalise Pickrel tied her career high with three blocks.

Every year, Coach Merchant talks about the importance of the "February Fight" as her teams make a push towards the postseason. Over the past three-plus seasons, Michigan State is 21-3 (87.5%) in the month of February. In Merchant's five seasons, the Spartans are 30-8 (78.9%) in the month.

Under Coach Merchant, Michigan State is 15-20 against ranked teams. Sunday will be MSU's fourth game against a ranked opponent this season, dropping games at No. 18 Dayton, and at home to No. 9 Penn State and No. 13 Purdue. Against top-10 opponents, MSU is 4-5 in Coach Merchant's tenure.

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 (who cannot reach 10 conference wins this season). MSU is 123-52 (70.3%) in conference play over the last 11 seasons, trailing only OSU (132-44; 75.0%) in winning percentage.

During Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State has a 65-30 (68.4%) Big Ten record. The win total is second in the conference over that span (Ohio State-67), while her winning percentage is 11th-best in the 32-year history of the Big Ten Conference. More recently, MSU has won 40 of its last 52 Big Ten regular season games (76.9%) over the past four 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.

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 30-17 (63.8%) in road conference games, the most wins in the Big Ten during that span. Only Nebraska (9-4) and Ohio State (26-22) 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.

MSU has 18 wins already this season, needing only two victories for its 10th consecutive 20-win season. Currently, MSU is one of 13 teams in the nation, and one of two in the Big Ten, to have won at least 20 games in each of the last nine seasons. Of the other 12 schools, Baylor (21 wins), Connecticut (21), Duke (20) and Stanford (20) have already reached that plateau, Green Bay (18), Middle Tennessee State (18) and Tennessee (18) are within reach, while Bowling Green (15), Marist (16), Ohio State (13), Temple (10) and Vanderbilt (15) have some work to do.

In Coach Merchant's first five seasons at MSU, the Spartans went 115-53 (.685). The 115 wins are the second most in the conference during that span, while the total is also the sixth-most by a Big Ten coach all-time in their first five seasons at the helm. In addition, her winning percentage is the 10th-best among Big Ten coaches all-time.

The Spartans have struggled offensively this season in their losses. Michigan State is averaging 65.2 points, while shooting 42.8% from the field and 32.5% from 3-point in its 18 wins, while in the four losses, MSU is averaging 56.0 points, 30.4% field goal percentage and 23.2% 3-point shooting.

Klarissa Bell and Annalise Pickrel have seen large differences in their production in MSU's wins and losses. Bell is averaging 12.9 points and 3.2 assists, while shooting 46.4% in the wins, but only 7.0 points, 1.5 assists and 28.6% in the losses. Meanwhile, in the wins, Pickrel is averaging 10.4 points, making 2.3 3-pointers per game at a 39.4% clip, and in the losses is averaging 4.0 points and shooting 16.7% from behind the arc with only 0.5 makes per game. MSU is 10-0 this season when Pickrel scores in double figures.

The latest NCAA statistical report was released on Feb. 7. The Spartans were among the national leaders in many statistical categories. Michigan State was sixth in points allowed (49.7), 14th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (25.2%), 18th in field goal percentage defense (34.5%), 19th in rebound margin (+8.4), 19th in fewest turnovers (13.8), 25th in fewest fouls (13.6) and 26th in scoring margin (+13.8).

The key to the Spartan success so far this season as been their ability to defend. Michigan State is sixth in the nation, allowing only 49.7 points per game. (Albany leads at 46.9 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 the first meeting with 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 20 of its 22 opponents below their scoring average.

Michigan State has held 12 teams under 50 points and six opponents below 40 points this season. Both numbers trail only the 1973-74 teams (14 times under 50 and nine times under 40). Entering this season, the Spartans had only held 32 opponents under 40 points in the first 1,124 games of the program.

Aside from Nebraska's Jordan Hooper, Michigan State has been especially effective in shutting down the opposing team's leading scorer. In all, 21 of the 22 opponents had been held below their scoring average. Including Hooper, the opponent's leading scorers have shot only 31.1% (79-254) against MSU.

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 +8.4 rebound margin, which is 19th in the country. MSU has out-rebounded 66 of its last 79 opponents, including 18 of the 22 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 14th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage defense (25.2%), while allowing only 79 3-pointers (3.6 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 13.8 times a game, which leads the Big Ten and is 19th 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 (25th in the nation), and allowing only 12.5 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 81.0% (34-42) from the free throw line. Leading the Spartans, Kiana Johnson is 10-for-10 and Jasmine Thomas is 9-for-10, 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 104-10 (91.2%).

The Spartans have been extremely effective closing out games over the last couple years, winning 74 of their last 75 games when leading with five minutes left, including an 18-1 mark last season and a 18-0 record so far in 2012-13. In Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State is 116-5 (95.9%) 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 22 games this year, Bell is averaging 10.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 34.3 minutes.

So far this season, Bell has stepped up as the team's offensive leader, leading the team with 11.8 points, ranking 23rd in the Big Ten. She also ranks among the top-15 in the conference in minutes (fifth, 36.0) and rebounds (17th, 6.1). She is among the top-3 on the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and 3-pointers made.

Bell has increased her scoring 7.7 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 three games ago vs. Purdue. In her first 13 games, Johnson is second on the team with 10.7 points, and team highs with 4.1 assists, 2.1 steals and a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio in 29.9 minutes. She is also shooting 85.7% (30-for-35) from the free throw line.

Her play in Big Ten games this season has increased, leading MSU in points, assists and steals. Johnson ranks eighth in the conference with 4.3 assists and 2.3 steals, while scoring 12.3 points, which is 18th.

Johnson has led Michigan State in scoring in three of the last five games, averaging 14.4 points, including posting a career-high 22 points at Nebraska. She has also led the team in assists in six of the last seven games (4.9 per game), including a season-high nine at Northwestern. In the last four games, Johnson is 9-for-22 (40.9%) from the 3-point line, after starting the season 2-for-23 (8.7%) in first nine games.

For her career, Johnson is second in MSU history with a 1.65 assist-to-turnover ratio, sixth in assists per game at 4.0 and fifth in steals per game at 1.9.

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 11th in the Big Ten) and 2.6 assists.

Her distribution of the ball has increase immensely over the last 17 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.

Schiffauer has posted her first three double-doubles of her career this season. 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 9.1 points and 5.3 rebounds, fourth on the team in both categories, in only 20.0 minutes. She also leads the team and is seventh in the conference with 2.6 offensive rebounds per game.

Junior Annalise Pickrel started the first 19 games of the season for the Spartans, but was moved to a reserve role three games ago vs. Purdue. After limited minutes against the Boilermakers, Pickrel bounced back last Thursday to lead the Spartans vs. Northwestern. She posted a career-high 21 points in 36 minutes, going 7-for-9 from the field, including 5-for-7 from the 3-point arc, and adding team-highs with six rebounds and four steals. Against Michigan on Monday, Pickrel came up big defensively with three blocks and two steals in 27 minutes off the bench.

The 6-3 forward is third on the team with 9.2 points, while adding 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.0 steals per game, and committing just 22 turnovers all year. Pickrel has already topped her single-season high in points, rebounds, assists and steals. She averaged only 2.5 points last season, and her +6.7 point increase this season is sixth in the Big Ten.

More importantly, Pickrel has become a threat from behind the 3-point line. She is 43-for-116 (.371) from 3-point so far this season, after making only 19 in her first two seasons (59 games) and shooting 30.2%. Her 2.0 3-pointers a game is eighth in the Big Ten, while her 3-point field goal percentage is 10th 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.

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 3.0 assists and second with 1.9 steals, while ranking fifth on the team with 9.0 points and third with 5.5 rebounds. 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 has a 1.1 a:to margin (66:63).

Thomas is shooting 44.4% (20-for-45) in the last five games. In her previous nine games, she shot only 20.3% (16-for-79) after starting the year shooting 51.8% (43-for-83) in the first eight games. Also, Thomas has made 30 of her last 35 (85.7%) attempts from the free throw line.

Sophomore Becca Mills was the female recipient of Michigan State's Champion in the Classroom award for the winter. The award takes into account the student-athlete's combination of leadership, community service and academic success. Mills and men's soccer's Kevin Cope received the award at halftime of the men's basketball game on Feb. 6. MSU honors one male and female student-athlete during the fall, winter and spring.

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 5-5 all-time on Feb. 10, but have won its last four games and have not lost on this date since 1991. The Spartans won at Penn State on Feb, 10, 2011.



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