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Spartans Remain on the Road at Wisconsin Thursday

Sophomore Klarissa Bell has scored in double-figures in two of her last three games.

Feb. 15, 2012

Michigan State (15-10, 7-5) at Wisconsin (8-16, 4-8)
 Date Thursday, Feb. 16
 Time 8 p.m. ET
 Location Madison, Wis. | Kohl Center
 Television none
 Radio WJIM 1240AM
Rick Berkey (play-by-play)
Spartan Sports Network (Listen Live)
 Internet Coverage GameTracker
 Game Notes Michigan State | Wisconsin
 Statistics Michigan State (html | pdf) | Wisconsin
 Social Media @MSU_wbasketball   |  Facebook

The Badgers enter the week on a three-game losing streak, bringing their record to 8-16 overall and 4-8 in Big Ten play. Taylor Wurtz leads Wisconsin offensively, with 16.2 points, good for seventh in the conference, and 7.4 rebounds. She is second in the Big Ten with 2.5 3-pointers a game and fifth with a 39.7% 3-point field goal percentage. Anya Covington is second on the team in both points (10.5) and rebounds (6.8). The Badgers are 11th in the Big Ten, averaging just 59.7 points per game.

Michigan State leads the all-time series, 36-25 against Wisconsin. The Spartan won both meetings against the Badgers last season, including an overtime thriller in Madison, 73-70 (Feb. 3). MSU is 12-18 all-time in Madison.

With two weeks to play, the battle for the top of the Big Ten Conference is wide open. Just two games seperate the top-seven teams in the conference. Penn State (10-3), Ohio State (9-3) and Purdue (9-3) sit atop the standings, with Nebraska a game behind at 8-4. Iowa (8-5) and Michigan (7-5) are tied with the Spartans in the loss column for fifth place.

LAST TIME OUT (Iowa 74, MSU 56)
A late second half run pushed Iowa past Michigan State, 74-57 on Sunday afternoon at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Porsche Poole led the Spartans for the fifth-straight game with 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. Lykendra Johnson, who tallied a team-high eight rebounds in the game, surpassed Kristen Rasmussen into second place on the MSU career rebound list with 965.

Iowa went on a 10-0 run in the opening minutes to open up a 12-2 lead with 15-and-a-half minutes to go in the first half. The Spartans slowly chipped away, eventually taking a three point lead of their own at 26-23 with 5:21 left. Two Iowa free throws late, would bring the halftime score to 30-30. Annalise Pickrel sparked the Spartans in the first half with eight of her season high 12 points.

Michigan State scored the first three points of the second half, but the Hawkeyes posted the next seven to take a lead they would not relinquish. Midway through the half (10:15), the Spartans trailed by only two (45-43), but Iowa blew the game open with a 16-3 run over the next five minutes to take a commanding 61-46 lead. Iowa executed down the stretch to close out the 74-57 win.

Klarissa Bell joined Poole and Pickrel in double figures, adding 10 points and a season high eight rebounds. It was the Spartans' fourth straight loss at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. MSU's 18 offensive rebounds were its third most on the season, and the most since Nov. 27 against Oakland.

Over the last three weeks, Porsche Poole leads all Big Ten players with 24.4 points per game, while also ranking second in assists (5.2), fifth in steals (2.6) and sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5). She is shooting 52.3% in those five games, good for fifth in the conference. Poole has also increased her rebounding to 5.2 a game during the hot streak.

She had a streak of four straight games with at least 20 points snapped Sunday, the longest streak by a Spartan since Liz Shimek accomplished the feat from Feb. 23-March 18, 2006. Poole is also just the second Spartan since 1994 to have such a streak.

Poole's five game stretch has included many career highlights. Last Thursday, in addition to her game-high 20 points vs. Northwestern, she dished out a career high seven assists. Two Sundays ago, Poole dropped in the game-winner at Michigan with 3.9 seconds left, capping off a 23-point performance. In what could have been her best all-around game as a Spartan, she also added a career high nine rebounds and a game high five assists (with one turnover).

Two weeks earlier she was named Big Ten Player of the Week for the first time in her career, where she scored career high totals in both games (28 vs. Illinois and 32 vs. Penn State), both high marks for a Spartan this season. Her 60 points over the two games were the most by a Spartan in consecutive games in program history (previous record was held by Kisha Kelley with 59 points on Feb. 9 and 13, 1994). Her 32 points against Penn State are tied for the eighth most in a single-game and the most by a Spartan since Aisha Jefferson scored 34 at Notre Dame on Nov. 29, 2008. Also it was just the 20th 30-point scoring effort by a Spartan.

Senior Lykendra Johnson entered the season with the reputation as one of the best rebounders in the nation, and she has lived up to that billing early in the 2011-12 campaign. She currently is second in the Big Ten with 8.8 rebounds a game, despite playing just 27.3 minutes a game. She also leads the conference in offensive rebounds with 3.2 and is second in the league with eight double-doubles.

On Sunday, Johnson surpassed Kristen Rasmussen for second place on the Spartan all-time rebound list with 965. In terms of offensive rebounds, she also checks in second all-time, grabbing 385, since the stat began being recorded in 1986-87. In terms of all-time Big Ten rebounders, Johnson is 15th among conference student-athletes since the conference began sponsoring the sport prior to the 1981-82 season. She is only five rebounds away from 13th place in conference history. Johnson has 25 career double-doubles, ranking her eighth on the MSU career list. In addition, she has 37 double-digit rebound games, placing her fifth in Spartan history.

Earlier this season she set a career-high with 20 on Nov. 15 vs. IPFW. Those 20 rebounds were the seventh most ever by a Spartan and the most since Kristen Rasmussen grabbed 20 on Dec. 30, 1997. They are also the most in the Big Ten since Penn State's Nikki Greene had 20 on Jan. 23, 2011.

Johnson's value on the floor for the Spartans is undeniable. So far this season, MSU is +200 with her on the court, but are -49 when she is sitting on the bench. In Big Ten games last year, the Spartans were +187 with Johnson on the floor, but -49 when she was on the bench.

As Lykendra Johnson's Spartan career approaches the end, she continues to get to statistical levels that not many Michigan State or Big Ten student-athletes have reached. Currently she is the only Spartan, and one of only five Big Ten student-athletes (since the sport was sponsored in 1981), to surpass 1,000 points, 900 rebounds, 200 steals and 100 blocks in her career.

With a 3-pointer early in the first half (16:23) at Texas on Dec. 10, Lykendra Johnson became the 22nd Spartan in program history to surpass 1,000 career points. She has now totaled 1,154 points in her MSU career, good for 16th place. Johnson will leave as one of the top rebounders in school history, currently second all-time in rebounds (965) and offensive rebounds (385). She is also the only Spartan to rank in the top-5 in both career blocks (third with 135) and steals (fifth with 213).

Johnson also is among the Michigan State leaders in each shooting category, ranking ninth in free throws made (281), 16th in 3-point field goals (59) and 18th in field goals (407). She is also sixth in career starts (109), 12th with 124 games played and 14th with 3,193 minutes played.

Senior Porsche Poole has increased her scoring average in each of her seasons at MSU, averaging 3.8 as a freshman, 4.6 as a sophomore and 6.1 last season. So far this season, she leads the team with 13.4 points per game, which is 17th in the Big Ten. Her +7.3 point increase from last year's average is the fourth largest improvement in the conference so far this season. Poole has scored in double-figures in 17 games and led MSU in scoring 13 times, both team highs.

Poole has also set career high marks in almost every statistical category so far this season. She has already topped her season high totals in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Poole is also shooting a career best 47.3% from the field, which ranks second on the team and 10th in the Big Ten.

Freshman point guard Kiana Johnson started the first four games for the Spartans, but lost her starting spot for four games, before regaining the honor for the last 17 contests. During her time coming off the bench, Johnson struggled, averaging just 4.3 points and 2.3 assists (compared to 2.3 turnovers), while shooting 26.1% from the field. Since returning to the starting five, she is averaging 7.9 points, 4.5 assists (compared to 2.2 turnovers) and 1.8 steals.

Johnson's assist-to-turnover ratio (1.67) is currently the best by a Spartan (with at least 2.0 assists a game) since the 2004-05 season, and ranks as the sixth-best at MSU since turnovers started being recorded in 1984.

Johnson leads the Spartans and is seventh in the Big Ten with 3.9 assists per game, and is third overall with a 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. She has increased her production in conference games, placing second assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.9 and fourth in assists (4.5). Johnson is second on the team in steals with 1.8 a game, 10th in the Big Ten.

Among freshmen nationally, Johnson is 13th in assists and second in assist-to-turnover ratio. Within the conference freshmen, she is first in steals and assist-to-turnover ratio, second in assists, and sixth in points.

Entering the Penn State game (Jan. 29), Klarissa Bell had played only 7.1 minutes a game, averaging 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds, but in an effort to shake up the team, Coach Merchant inserted Bell into the starting lineup for the first time in her career. She has responded to average 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 32.5 minutes over the last four games.

In her first start, Bell posted a then-season high seven points, including five key points in the final three minutes, and four rebounds in 30 minutes. Bell followed up that performance with a career day at Michigan, scoring a career high 13 points and grabbing a six rebounds (five on the offensive end) in a career high 36 minutes. Bell went 3-for-4 from the 3-point line, after coming into the game just 2-for-14 (14.3%) this season and 7-for-48 (14.6%) in her career. On Sunday at Iowa, she again reached double-figures, scoring 10 points and adding a season and game-high eight rebounds.

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 48-4 (92.3%), including winning their last 31 games, while when they hold opponents to 60 points or less, their record is 84-8 (91.3%).

A common theme between Michigan State's wins and losses has been its ability to get to the free throw line. In the wins, MSU has shot 295 free throws (19.7 a game), in comparison to 13.8 a game in the losses (138 total). In its 15 wins, MSU is +60 in free throw attempts (+4.0 a game), while -87 (-8.7) in the eight losses.

The Spartans have been 41-4 over the last three seasons when attempting more free throws than their opponent, including a 10-2 mark this season.

Through the first 25 games, MSU leads the Big Ten and is 24th in the country in rebound margin (+6.5). Senior Lykendra Johnson is second in the Big Ten with 8.8 a game. Johnson leads the conference with 3.2 offensive boards.

MSU has out-rebounded 44 of its last 51 opponents dating back to last season, and was outrebounded only four times this season (at Texas, at Penn State, vs. Indiana, vs. Northwestern).

Last season, Michigan State led the Big Ten in rebound margin, offensive rebounds and both rebound percentage categories. MSU was +8.4 in rebound margin, which was also ninth in the nation and broke the school's single-season record. The Spartans also topped the league with 15.5 offensive rebounds a game, which tied the previous record (2005-06).

MSU has won 30 of its last 39 Big Ten regular season games (76.9%) over the past two-plus seasons. MSU's 4-0 start to the Big Ten season was just its fourth in program history (1987-88, 1990-91, 2010-11, 2011-12).

Michigan State went 13-3 in conference play last year and earned its first outright Big Ten regular season title, winning the conference by two games over Penn State. MSU also shared the Big Ten Regular Season Championship in 1997 and 2005. The Spartans have won at least 10 Big Ten games in nine straight seasons. It is tied for the longest active streak in the conference with Ohio State. MSU is 113-49 (69.8%) in conference play over the last 10 seasons, trailing only OSU in winning percentage.

300 AND 100
With the win over Oakland on Nov. 27, head coach Suzy Merchant became the fastest head coach to 100 wins as a Spartan. In her five seasons, she has posted a 110-51 (.683) record since her arrival prior to the 2007-08 season. Both Karen Langeland and Joanne P. McCallie needed 155 games to win 100, while Merchant accomplished the feat in 143 games.

In the 31-year history of the Big Ten, Merchant has the 11th-best career winning percentage in conference games, winning 67.1% (55-27), and has the second highest percentage among active coaches.

Merchant claimed her 300th career victory on Nov. 22 at Milwaukee. All-time, Merchant is 311-171 (.645) in her 17 years as a head coach, including stops at Eastern Michigan (1998-07) and Saginaw Valley State (1995-98).

Michigan State has done a great job of bouncing back after a loss over the last couple seasons. The Spartans lost back-to-back games in-season for the first time since Jan. 2010 a couple weeks ago. Previously, MSU had won its last 13 games in-season after a defeat. In Coach Merchant's four seasons, the Spartans are 37-12 (75.5%) following a loss.

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 seasons under Merchant, MSU is 25-16 (61.0%) in road conference games. They are one of two schools with a winning road record (Ohio State is 24-16).

Michigan State is 7-4 all-time on Feb. 16, but has not lost on this date since 1992, having won its last four games.



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