The first NCAA statistical report was released Monday, and the MSU women’s basketball team (5-0) statistically has the nation’s best defense, allowing just 37.4 points per game.
Keeping that statistic in mind, that solid defense certainly will come in handy when they take on North Carolina State Thursday at 7 p.m. in Raleigh, N.C., for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The Spartans are 3-2 all-time in the yearly conference showdown and defeated North Carolina State 58-57 in their only other meeting in 2008.
The Wolfpack average 80.1 points per game — good for 13th best in the nation — and head coach Suzy Merchant said the two key places the Spartans need to execute are in slowing the game down and grabbing rebounds.
“They do a really good job of scoring points quick and in bunches in transitions,” Merchant said. “Our transition defense is going to be a premium. They’re killing people on the boards left and right on both ends. We’re working a lot on boxing out and keeping extra rebounds and keeping them off the boards as much as we can. If we can get them in the quarter court, that helps us a little bit.”
North Carolina State is led by Kody Burke, who averages 17.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. The team ranks sixth in the nation by outrebounding their opponents by an average of 15 boards.
With four games in 10 days, she said this is the point of the season where the team needs to figure out what it’s all about.
“The good thing that has helped us is it gives them the feeling of what it’s going to be like night in and night out in terms of playing time,” Merchant said. “We’re in a situation where we’ve had a balanced attack. (Senior guard) Jasmine Thomas has been spectacular, and now she’s going to see how she does against quicker guards. We don’t have a great power post game, but I’m anxious to see how we compete against those kids, too.”
Senior forward Courtney Schiffauer said going on the road and playing a difficult team gives them a good gauge as to how they’re progressing.
“You have to be ready for anything,” Schiffauer said. “It’s on the road, it’s against fans that don’t like you, it’s a tough team, so you have to really get in the mindset that this is do or die. We need this game to get into the NCAA Tournament, so it’s a tough-minded mindset.”
Junior forward Annalise Pickrel has not committed a turnover in her five starts this season and said the defensive mark they set was against teams that play similarly to North Carolina State.
“The offenses that were run by the previous teams, pretty much everybody runs that kind of offense, so it gave us a lot of confidence as a group putting those teams away,” Pickrel said. “That’s what our coach does, so it’s kind of pressed into our minds every day at practice. We gained a lot of confidence as a core group because that’s what we needed at the beginning of the season, and hopefully we can carry that over to the more challenging games.”
This will be the first overnight trip for the Spartans, but Merchant said she isn’t worried about the distractions the team will inevitably face.
“The six kids that are playing a lot of minutes have all been there,” Merchant said. “If we had three or four freshman, that would be a different story. There will be nobody in the stands for the Spartans. We’ll fight hard, and we’ll just go down there and do our best.”