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Spartans Return to College Park for NCAA Tournament

Senior Jasmine Thomas returns the Spartans to Comcast Center for the 2013 NCAA Tournament First and Second Rounds.

March 20, 2013

No. 5-seed Michigan State (24-8) vs. No. 12-seed Marist (26-6)
NCAA Tournament First Round
 Date | Time Saturday, March 23 | approx. 1:30 p.m.
 Location College Park, Md. | Comcast Center
 Televison ESPN2 |
Marc Kestecher - play-by-play
LaChina Robinson - analyst
ESPN Coverage Information
 Radio WJIM 1240AM | Spartan Sports Network (Listen Live)
 Radio (Mobile) Broadcast available on Spartan Sports Network Mobile App: iPhone/iPad | Android
 Internet Coverage GameTracker
NCAA Tournament Central
Interactive Bracket | PDF Bracket
College Park Region Information/Tickets
 Game Notes Michigan State | Marist
 Statistics Michigan State | Marist
 Social Media @MSU_WBasketball   |  Facebook

Michigan State is making its 13th NCAA Tournament appearance, its fifth in a row and its 10th in the last 11 years. The Spartans qualified for their 12th straight postseason overall. All-time, the Spartans are 15-12 in the NCAA Tournament, including a 9-2 record in its first game. The Spartans advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2006 and 2009, and the National Title game in 2005.

MSU is a fifth-seed for the third time (2007, 2010), posting a 2-2 record. As a host in 2007, the Spartans beat No. 12 Delaware 69-58, before losing to No. 4 Rutgers, 70-57. In 2010 in Louisville, MSU knocked off No. 12 Bowling Green, 72-62, but lost to No. 4 Kentucky, 70-52.

MSU is one of 19 schools, including only two in the Big Ten (Iowa) who have qualified for the last five NCAA Tournaments [Baylor, Connecticut, DePaul, Duke, Fresno State, Georgia, Gonzaga, Green Bay, Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan State, Middle Tennessee, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, South Dakota State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt].

Over the last eight years (2005-present), Michigan State has posted a 12-7 record in the NCAA Tournament. Its 12 wins are the 12th most in the nation and tied with Purdue for the most among Big Ten schools. [Connecticut 32, Stanford 29, Tennessee 27, Baylor 24, Duke 22, North Carolina 20, LSU 19, Maryland 18, Rutgers 16, Oklahoma 16, Texas A&M 15]

This will be head coach Suzy Merchant's sixth trip to the NCAA Tournament, posting a 4-5 record. She has guided the Spartans to the last five tournaments, advancing the Sweet 16 in 2009 and the second round in 2010 and 2011. Merchant ties Joanne P. McCallie for the most NCAA appearances as MSU head coach (five). Over the last four NCAA Tournaments, her four wins are third among Big Ten schools (Ohio State and Purdue have five each). Merchant also took Eastern Michigan to the tournament in 2004.

Seven Spartans enter the weekend with previous NCAA Tournament experience, however, the group has totaled only 67 points and 39 rebounds in 16 combined games. The positive is all seven members of the Spartan rotation has experience in the Comcast Center for a NCAA Tournament. Klarissa Bell had a solid game last year, leading MSU with 12 points and four assists (no turnovers), while adding seven rebounds. Annalise Pickrel, who went 2-for-2 against Louisville last season in College Park, is the only Spartan to have made a 3-pointer in the NCAA Tournament, while Jasmine Thomas is the only one to make a free throw.

Michigan State faced seven teams in the NCAA Tournament bracket during the regular season, going 7-6. The Spartans went 2-1 against No. 8-seed Michigan, won their lone games against No. 7 Texas Tech, No. 9 Iowa and No. 14 Albany, went 1-2 against No. 3 Penn State and No. 4 Purdue, and lost their only game to No. 6 Nebraska.

The Big Ten qualified six schools for the NCAAs - Iowa, Michigan, MSU, Nebraska, Penn State and Purdue. It is the second-most teams all-time for the conference (also in 1996, 2002, 2003 and 2004), after sending seven schools last season. Among other conferences, the Big Ten is fourth for most schools, behind the Big East (8), Big 12 (7) and SEC (7).

The Red Foxes, who earned the No. 12 seed in the Bridgeport Regional, enter the weekend with a 26-6 record, and have won 21-straight games. Marist went 18-0 to win the MAAC regular-season title and defeated Iona 72-48 to win the MAAC Tournament.

Marist's success has come on the defensive end, ranking 17th in the nation with 52.2 points allowed. They have held 19 teams to 50 points or fewer. The Red Foxes also rank 11th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage defense (25.6%) and 24th in field goal percentage defense (35.0%). Marist has a balanced offensive attack with six players averaging over seven points per game, led by Elizabeth Beynnon's 12.2 points. Casey Dulin is the only other Red Fox in double digits with 10.2, also adding a team-best 3.3 assists. Beynnon and Dulin were both Second Team All-MAAC selections. Kristina Danella was named MAAC Sixth Player of the Year, ranking third on the team in points (9.3) and second in rebounds (4.5). Leanne Ockenden was the MAAC Defensive Player of the Year, leading the team with 64 steals and 18 blocks. Marist attempts 21.7 3-pointers per game, making 6.6 per game and shooting 30.4%. The Red Foxes are fifth in the nation in free throw percentage (79.0%).

Michigan State and Marist have never met.

Marist is making its ninth NCAA Tournament, all within the last 10 seasons, including eight in a row. The Red Foxes have a 5-8 NCAA Tournament record, despite being a low seed in seven of their previous eight trips. Each of the last two seasons, they have won their opening game. Last season as a No. 13 seed, Marist upset No. 4 Georgia 76-70 in the first round, and in 2011 as a No. 10 seed, it beat No. 7 Iowa State, 74-64. In 2007, Marist advanced to the Sweet 16 after upsetting No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Middle Tennessee.

The two schools have only one common opponents this season - Purdue. MSU went 1-2 against the Boilermakers this season, while Marist lost to Purdue 71-50 at the Paradise Jam in the US Virgin Islands on Nov. 22.

The Red Foxes played five teams in this year's field of 64, but posted only a 1-4 record. Marist beat No. 9 Princeton, but lost to No. 1 Connecticut, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 4 Purdue and No. 6 Oklahoma.

On Feb. 20 against Northwestern, Michigan State picked up its 20th win of the season. It is the 10th straight season that the Spartans have won at least 20 games, marking the longest active streak in the Big Ten. All-time it was MSU's 14th 20-win season.

Entering this season, MSU was 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 (32 wins), Bowling Green (22), Connecticut (29), Duke (30), Green Bay (29), Marist (26), Middle Tennessee State (25), Stanford (31), Tennessee (24) and Vanderbilt (20) have joined MSU in already reaching that plateau, while Ohio State (18) and Temple (14) have some work to do.

Michigan State needed 26 games this season to get to 20 wins; it tied for the third fastest in school history. The 2004-05 and 2010-11 teams needed only 23 games, while the 1977-78, 1996-97 and 2006-07 squads also reached the number in 26 games. The Spartans' 24 wins are tied for the third-most in program history. The 2004-05 team won 33 games, while the 2010-11 team picked up 27 wins. The 2005-06 and 2006-07 teams also won 24 games.

With its win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten regular season finale, the Spartans won its 10th conference game, extending their streak to 11-consecutive years with double-digit Big Ten wins. It is the longest active streak in the Big Ten (with Penn State second at three). MSU is 127-55 (69.8%) in conference play over the last 11 seasons, trailing only Ohio State (136-46; 74.7%) in wins.

During Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State has a 69-33 (67.6%) Big Ten record. The win total is second in the conference over that span (Ohio State-71), while her winning percentage is 12th-best in the 32-year history of the Big Ten Conference. More recently, MSU has won 44 of its last 59 Big Ten regular season games (74.6%).

Michigan State finished the 2012-13 Big Ten season in a tie for third at 10-6. The Spartans have now finished third or better in each of the last five seasons - winning the title in 2010-11, and placing second in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2011-12. In all, MSU has finished no worse than third place in eight of the last nine years.

Michigan State advanced to the Big Ten Tournament championship game for the second time in program history (2005). As the No. 4 seed, the Spartans opened with a 62-46 win over No. 5 Michigan. MSU followed with an upset over regular-season champion Penn State, ranked No. 8 in the nation, 54-46 on Saturday. In the championship game, the Spartans fell to third-seeded Purdue, 62-47. Senior Jasmine Thomas was named to the all-tournament team after leading MSU with 14.7 points over the three games.

In the opener vs. Michigan, Klarissa Bell led the Spartans with 20 points, and was instrumental in holding Michigan's leading scorer Kate Thompson to eight points on 3-for-14 shooting and 1-for-10 from behind the arc. Kiana Johnson chipped in seven assists. The Spartans were up five at the half, but used a 16-1 run over a seven minute span in the second half to pull away. MSU was efficient from the field, shooting 51.0%, while dishing out 19 assists on 26 made field goals. The Wolverine shot just 34.6% and were 5-for-23 (21.7%) from 3-point.

The Spartans followed up that solid defensive performance with arguably their greatest defensive games of the season. Michigan State held Penn State to a season-low 46 points, its fewest since Feb. 25, 2010, and a season-low 22.4% from the field, its lowest in over two decades. MSU trailed 16-5 with 12:41 to go in the first half, but held the Nittany Lions without a field goal for the rest of the half, closing on a 12-4 run to get within two (19-17) at the break. In the second half, the Spartans posted separate runs of 15-3 and 10-0 to put the game away. It was the Spartans' first-ever win over the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and their first win over a top-10 team since Feb. 21, 2010 at No. 9/7 Ohio State. MSU had a season-high 52 rebounds, including a career-high 14 from Jasmine Hines. Offensively, Jasmine Thomas led the way with 19 points, 14 of which were in the second half.

In the championship game, Michigan State got off to a slow start, falling behind 33-10 in the first half. The Spartans would battle back to get within nine with 5:53 to go, but could get no closer. Thomas again led the Spartans with 15 points and seven rebounds.

In head coach Suzy Merchant's six seasons at Michigan State, a total of 20 Spartans have earned All-Big Ten honors, leading the conference in that span. In addition, MSU has had five major award winners, four Big Ten All-Freshman team recipients and four Big Ten All-Defensive team honorees.

This season, Klarissa Bell was a third-team All-Big Ten choice by the coaches, while Bell, Jasmine Thomas and Kiana Johnson were honorable mention selections by the media. All three Spartans earned All-Big Ten honors for the first times in their careers. Courtney Schiffauer was MSU's recipient of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.

This season, the Michigan State women's basketball program is celebrating its 40th year as a varsity sport. With their win over Wisconsin on March 3, the Spartans became the 43rd program, and fourth Big Ten school, to win their 700th game. All-time, MSU is 702-454 (60.7%).

In Coach Merchant's first six seasons at MSU, the Spartans have gone 139-61 (69.5%). Her winning percentage is the 10th best all-time among Big Ten coaches. Her 139 wins so far are the fourth-most by a Big Ten coach in their first six seasons. During her span, the 139 wins are second among Big Ten schools, trailing only Ohio State (149).

Merchant has won at least 20 games in nine-straight seasons, not including the shortened 2006-07 season due to her maternity leave. In her career, she has 10 20-win seasons.

Merchant coached her 100th Big Ten game against Northwestern. In conference games, she is 69-33 (67.6%), ranking her 12th in career winning percentage in Big Ten games.

The latest NCAA statistical report was released on March 17. The Spartans were among the national leaders in many statistical categories. Michigan State was 11th in points allowed (51.6), 18th in rebound margin (+7.6), 25th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (26.7%), 36th in scoring margin (+10.7), 37th in fewest turnovers (14.1), 38th in fewest fouls (14.0) and 44th in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.98).

The key to the Spartan success this season as been their ability to defend. Michigan State is 11th in the nation, allowing only 51.6 points per game. The Spartans are on pace for the third lowest single-season opponent scoring average, with the top-two marks occurring in the first two seasons on MSU varsity women's basketball - 1973-74 (38.4) and 1972-73 (38.9).

Michigan State has held 17 teams under 50 points, the most in the single season (1973-74 team did it 14 times). The Spartans have also held six opponents below 40 points this season, second all-time behind 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 the first meeting with Penn State (Jan. 6), 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 28 of its 32 opponents below their scoring average.

Michigan State has been especially effective in shutting down the opposing team's leading scorer. In all, 27 of the 32 opponents had been held below their scoring average. They have all combined to shoot only 33.0% (127-for-385) from the floor.

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 five seasons, getting as low as ninth nationally in 2010-11. This season, MSU again leads the Big Ten with a +7.6 rebound margin, which is 18th in the country. MSU has out-rebounded 75 of its last 89 opponents, including 27 of the 32 teams this season.

The Spartans led the Big Ten in conference games this season with a +6.3 margin. MSU has led the league in three of the last five seasons in conference games only. Overall, MSU is second in the Big Ten offensive rebounds with 13.6 per game, but increased its production in conference games with a league-best 14.9 per game. The Spartans ended up leading the Big Ten in conference games in both defensive rebound percentage (74.4%) and offensive rebound percentage (37.7%).

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 finished second in the Big Ten in points allowed in conference games this season with 58.8 points. The Spartans had previously led the Big Ten in conference games in points allowed for the last three seasons.

Michigan State leads the Big Ten and is 25th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage defense (26.7%). The Spartans have allowed only 123 3-pointers (3.8 per game) all season, which is fewest in the Big Ten and the 20th fewest in the nation.

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 14.1 times a game, which is second in the Big Ten and is 37th in the nation.

The Spartans have been extremely effective closing out games over the last couple years, winning 80 of their last 81 games when leading with five minutes left, including a 24-0 record so far in 2012-13. In Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State is 122-5 (96.1%) when holding a lead with five minutes left.

Despite being last in the Big Ten in free throw percentage (67.1%) 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 72.3% (47-65) from the free throw line. Leading the Spartans, Courtney Schiffauer is 5-for-6 (83.3%), while both Kiana Johnson and Jasmine Thomas are 13-for-16 (81.3%).

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 57-4 (93.4%), including winning their last 39 games, while when they hold opponents to 60 points or less, their record is 109-10 (91.6%).

In Coach Merchant's six seasons, the Spartans are 45-14 (76.3%) following a loss, including a 7-1 record 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 10.4 points, 3.1 assists (12th in the Big Ten) and 1.8 steals (13th in the conference), while ranking third on the team with 5.3 rebounds. Those numbers earned her honorable mention All-Big Ten honors for the first time in her career. 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 1.3 a:to margin (99:79), which is sixth in the conference. Over her last 10 games, Thomas has 33 assists and has committed 16 turnovers (2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio).

Over the past eight games, Thomas has stepped up as the Spartan offensive leader, averaging 15.3 points, posting double figures in each of those games. She has led the team in scoring five times in the last eight contests, including a career-high 21 points at Michigan. It was the first time in her career that she scored in double figures in more than three-straight Big Ten games. Her current streak of eight-straight double-digit games is tied for the longest in her career, set over the first eight games of this season.

Thomas has been on the floor for 308 of the 320 minutes in the last eight games (38.3 minutes per game). For the season, she is second on the team with 35.1 minutes per game. Her average is seventh on the MSU single-season list, while her 1,122 total minutes are eighth. For her career, Thomas is 20th at MSU with 2,987 minutes played and 11th with 129 games played.

Thomas is shooting 45.5% (76-for-167) from the field in the last 15 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.

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, 2012 (vs. Penn State) and started the final 11 games last year. As a starter, including the first 32 games this year, Bell is averaging 10.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 34.2 minutes.

Bell's improved play was recognized by the Big Ten coaches when she was named to the All-Big Ten Third Team, her first career conference recognition. Bell has stepped up as the team's offensive leader this season, leading the team with 11.1 points, ranking 25th in the Big Ten. She also ranks among the conference leaders in minutes (ninth, 35.4) and rebounds (17th, 5.9). She is among the top-3 on the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and 3-pointers made.

Bell has increased her scoring 7.0 points from last season (4.1 ppg in 2011-12), which is currently the 10th-best improvement in Spartan history and the third-largest increase from last year among Big Ten scorers.

The Spartans' success this season has weighed heavily based upon Bell's play. In Michigan State's 24 wins, she is averaging 12.5 points, 3.0 assists and shooting 45.8% from the field, while in the eight losses, she has scored only 6.8 points, dished out 2.0 assists and shot just 30.3%.

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 13 games ago vs. Purdue. Johnson is third on the team with 9.2 points, and has team highs of 4.2 assists, 2.0 steals and an 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio in 31.9 minutes.

Her play in Big Ten games this season increased, finishing eighth in the conference with 4.3 assists and 2.2 steals, while scoring 10.1 points. Her 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio in conference games, ranked third and her 35.0% 3-point percentage was ninth. Her production earned her honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

Johnson has led the team in assists in 12 of the last 17 games (4.5 per game), including a season-high nine at Northwestern. In the last 14 games, Johnson is 23-for-56 (41.1%) 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 1.73 assist-to-turnover ratio, sixth in assists per game at 4.1 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 6.2 points, a team-best 6.1 rebounds (which is 15th in the Big Ten) and 2.3 assists. She is also second on the team and 15th in the Big Ten with 2.0 offensive rebounds per game.

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.

Junior Annalise Pickrel started the first 19 games of the season for the Spartans, but has bounced back in forth in the starting lineup since then. For the season, the 6-3 forward is fifth on the team with 9.1 points, while adding 4.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.8 steals per game. Pickrel has already topped her single-season high in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. She averaged only 2.5 points last season, and her +6.6 point increase this season is fourth in the Big Ten.

More importantly, Pickrel has become a threat from behind the 3-point line. She is 59-for-161 (.366) from 3-point so far this season, after making only 19 in her first two seasons (59 games) and shooting 30.2%. Her 1.8 3-pointers a game is ninth in the Big Ten, while her 3-point field goal percentage is also ninth in the conference. Her 59 3-pointers this season are currently tied for ninth in the MSU single-season list, while her 78 career 3-pointers are 15th on the MSU career list.

Sophomore Becca Mills entered the season as the Spartans' returning leading scorer (7.2) and rebounder (4.3), but has been inconsistent throughout her sophomore season. Mills is third on the team in scoring this season (9.2), but has played better of late since getting added back into the starting lineup. She has scored double figures in six of her last nine games, averaging 10.3 points during that span.

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 7.7 points and 5.0 rebounds, fourth on the team, in only 17.9 minutes. She also leads the team and is eighth in the conference with 2.5 offensive rebounds per game. Among Big Ten bench players (10 or less starts), Hines is second in the conference in points and leads in rebounds.

Michigan State is 0-4 all-time on March 23.



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