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Spartans Have Quick Turnaound, Host Milwaukee Saturday

Junior Klarissa Bell topped her career high for the third time already this season on Thursday with 21 points.

Nov. 30, 2012

Michigan State (6-0) vs. Milwaukee(3-3)
 Date | Time Saturday, Dec. 1 | 4 p.m.
 Location East Lansing, Mich. | Breslin Center
 Televison none
 Internet Coverage Gametracker | Live Stats (Mobile Users)
 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 | Milwaukee
 Statistics Michigan State | Milwaukee
 Video Suzy Merchant Show - Episode 3
 Social Media @MSU_WBasketball   |  Facebook

With Sunday's men's and women's basketball doubleheader, the Breslin Center will be cleared between games. For the women's game, parking lots will reopen at 3 p.m. and doors will open at 3 p.m.

The Panthers enter the weekend with a 3-3 record, after a 75-54 loss at Illinois State on Thursday. Three Milwaukee players are averaging double figures, led by Angela Rodriguez with 12.8 points. East Lansing native Sami Tucker is second with 12.3 points, while Ashley Green averages 12.2 points and a team-best 6.3 rebounds. The Panthers rely heavily on the 3-pointer, making 7.8 per game, while shooting 38.2%. They have struggled on the glass, with a -5.7 rebound margin. Milwaukee is led by first-year head coach Kyle Rechlicz.

Michigan State leads the all-time series over Milwaukee, 4-0. MSU has won each of the last two seasons, including the lone meeting between the two schools in East Lansing in 2010. The Spartans traveled to Milwaukee last season and came home with a 70-57 victory behind a career high 20 points from Becca Mills, who also added nine rebounds and four assists.

The Spartans have begun the 2012-13 season with a 6-0 record. It is just the fourth time in program history that Michigan State has won its first six games - 2008-09, 1999-00, 1983-84. Only the 1999-00 team won its first seven games.

It was only the sixth time that MSU finished November without a loss - 1983 (2-0), 1984 (1-0),1995 (3-0), 1999 (4-0), 2003 (4-0) - but set a new record for most wins in the month. The Spartans are 93-34 (73.2%) all-time in the month of November. Under Coach Merchant, Michigan State is 32-7 (82.1%) in November, with four of the seven losses coming against top-10 opponents.

- Michigan State scored the first seven points and went ahead 21-3 over the first seven and a half minutes.
- The Wolfpack cut the once 18-point deficit down to one (39-38) in the first two minutes of the second half, but Michigan State responded with 10-straight points over the next six minutes and an extended 23-5 run over 12 and a half minutes.
- NC State entered the game, ranking 13th in the nation with 80.1 points per game. They held the Wolfpack to a season low 34.5% from the field, including a 20.0% (3-for-15) mark from behind the arc.
- MSU was +4 on the glass, controlling NC State who was sixth nationally with a +15.0 margin on the season.
- Klarissa Bell scored a career-high 21 points to lead the Spartans to their fourth 6-0 start in program history.
- Jasmine Thomas poured in a season-high 16 points and tied her season high with seven rebounds, playing all 40 minutes. Annalise Pickrel also played all 40 minutes, chipping in 14 points. Courtney Schiffauer set a career high with a team-best five assists.
- MSU had an 18-4 edge in second chance points, after limiting NC State to 10 offensive rebounds. Entering the night, the Wolfpack were averaging 17.9 second chance points on 18.1 offensive boards.
- MSU held NC State leading scorer Kady Burke (17.7) to nine points, snapping a streak of 10-straight games in double figures.
- The Spartans held NC State without a fast break point. The Wolfpack has averaged 10.1 per game this season.
- The Spartans shot a season-best 81.3% from the free throw line (13-for-16).
- MSU had only 11 turnovers and 11 personal fouls. The Spartans entered the week fifth in the nation in both categories.
- Branndais Agee scored her first collegiate points with a jumper in the first half.
- Michigan State has now won both meetings against NC State all-time.
- MSU is now 4-2 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The record is tied for the best among Big Ten schools.
- The ACC won the 2012 Challenge 7-5.

The Spartans have not trailed since the early minutes against Albany on Nov. 21, a span of 117:38 minutes. For the season, Michigan State has been behind for a total of 5:19 minutes.

The key to the Spartan success so far this season as been their ability to defend. Michigan State leads the nation, allowing only 39.7 points per game. The 238 points that MSU has allowed in its first six games are the third fewest all-time to begin the season, and the fewest since the addition of the 3-point line in 1987-88. The two lowest marks happened in the first two seasons - 190 in 1973-74 and 219 in 1972-73.

MSU has held four of its first six opponents below 40 points. It already ties for the second most game 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.

On Thursday, NC State entered the game, ranking 13th in the nation, averaging 80.1 points per game, and the Spartans held them 29.1 points below their average. MSU limited the previous three opponents to well-below their season averages (Robert Morris - 18.5 points below, Albany 24.5, Virginia Tech - 24).

One of the keys to Saturday's game will be the Spartans' ability to defend the 3-point line. Milwaukee is top-20 in the nation with 7.8 3-pointers per game, while shooting 38.2%. Michigan State leads the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage defense (35.4), while allowing only 18 3-pointers all season. Over the last three games, MSU opponents have combined to shoot 17.9% (7-for-39) from 3-point range.

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 12.0 times a game, which leads the Big Ten and is fifth in the country. In addition, the Spartans leads the conference in turnover margin (+5.5).

The Spartans ability to distribute the ball joined with their low turnover numbers, put them atop the Big Ten and sixth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3). The starting backcourt of Jasmine Thomas, Klarissa Bell and Annalise Pickrel have led the way, combining for 65 assists compared to only 27 turnovers (2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio), while each averaging over 33 minutes a game. Over her last five games, Thomas has a 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio (31 assists, nine turnovers), while Pickrel has yet to commit a turnover this season in 202 minutes of action.

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 11.5 fouls per game, ranking fifth in the nation, and allowing only 8.7 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 six games this year, Bell is averaging 11.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 32.6 minutes.

So far this season, Bell has stepped up as the team's offensive leader, leading the team with 16.2 points, ranking ninth in the Big Ten. She also ranks among the top-15 in the conference in minutes (third, 36.0), assist-to-turnover ratio (eighth, 1.6), field goal percentage (eighth, 51.4%) and assists (11th, 3.7).

Bell has increased her scoring 12.1 points from last season (4.1 ppg in 2011-12), which is currently the best improvement in Spartan history and the 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 on Thursday 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, a 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 12.5 points, having scored in double figures in all six games, while leading the team with 5.5 assists and 2.5 steals. She ranks fourth in Big Ten and 25th in the nation in assists, while placing fifth in the conference 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 leads the league and top-25 in the nation with a 2.5 a:to margin. More impressively, over the last five games, she has 31 assists and just nine turnovers (3.4 a:to).

Junior Annalise Pickrel got her first career start in the opener vs. UT Arlington, and has proved in the first six games that she belongs in that role. The 6-3 forward is averaging 11.7 points, including a career high 18 points in the opener, while dishing out 1.7 assists per game, without committing a turnover. Pickrel has already matched her point total of last season with 70.

More importantly, Pickrel has become a threat from behind the 3-point line. She is 16-for-38 (.421) from 3-point so far this season, after making only 19 in her first two seasons (59 games) and shooting 30.2%. Her 2.7 3-pointers a game is sixth in the Big Ten, while her 3-point field goal percentage is 11th 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.

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%. If you pro-rated her production over 40 minutes, she would have averaged 19.8 points and 9.7 rebounds.

Again a season-ending injury to Williams will increase her playing time this season. In the first six games, Hines is averaging 9.2 points and 4.7 rebounds in 20.8 minutes, while shooting 53.5% from the field, which is fourth in the Big Ten. MSU is 7-0 when she reaches double-digit points in her career.

The first NCAA statistical report came out on Monday, and the Spartans were among the national leaders in many statistical categories. Michigan State led the country in points allowed with 37.4 per game, ahead of the rest of the nation by 6.4 points per game (Connecticut, 43.8). The Spartans were also second in field goal percentage defense (28.2%), fifth in fewest turnovers (12.2) and fewest fouls (11.6), sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.38) and eighth in scoring margin (+29.6).

The 2012-13 basketball season is the Spartans' 24th inside the Breslin Center. MSU has an all-time record of 242-82 (.747) at Breslin and have been even more dominant of late in its cozy confines, having won 36 of its last 40 games (.900).

The Spartans broke their single-season attendance record for the second straight season last year, cementing themselves as one of the top programs in the country in regard to fan support. Last season marked the eighth straight season that the Spartans had been among the nation's top 15 in attendance, averaging 7,505 fans per game, which ranked eighth in the nation and second in the Big Ten. It was MSU's highest national ranking.

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 52-4 (92.9%), including winning their last 35 games, while when they hold opponents to 60 points or less, their record is 94-8 (92.2%).

Michigan State led the Big Ten for the third time in four seasons in rebound margin (+6.3), 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 +8.3 rebound margin. MSU has out-rebounded 53 of its last 64 opponents.

The Spartans have been extremely effective closing out games over the last couple years, winning 62 of their last 63 games when leading with five minutes left, including an 18-1 mark last season and a 6-0 record so far in 2012-13. In Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State is 104-5 (95.4%) when holding a lead with five minutes left.

A common theme between Michigan State's wins and losses last season was its ability to get to the free throw line. In the wins, MSU shot 395 free throws (19.8 a game), in comparison to 13.5 a game in the losses (162 total). In its 20 wins, MSU is +66 in free throw attempts (+3.3 a game), while -98 (-8.2) in the 12 losses.

MSU has shot 42 more free throws than its opponent (94-to-52) over the first six games this season. The Spartans have been 49-5 (90.7%) over the last four seasons when attempting more free throws than their opponent, including a 6-0 record this season and a 12-3 mark last season.

Michigan State is 4-1 all-time on December 1, with its lone loss coming last season vs. No. 9 Miami.



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