When the MSU women’s basketball team lost to Notre Dame on Dec. 11, 1999, it already was off to the best start in program history.
Now the 2012 version of the Spartans looks to top that mark with a tilt against Oakland at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Rochester, Mich.
About five weeks into the season, the Spartans statistically still have the best defense in the country, allowing just 41.1 points per game.
In the 280 minutes of game time thus far this season, MSU only has trailed for a little more than five minutes. The last time they faced any sort of deficit was in the first moments against Albany on Nov. 21, a span of 157:38.
When the Spartans and Golden Grizzlies face off on Wednesday, head coach Suzy Merchant said she expects them to come to play, based on her past experiences.
“I was a midmajor coach, and a Division II coach prior to that,” Merchant said. “I was Division II and we beat a Division I team, and when I was at Eastern Michigan, we beat some BCS-level teams. You always put your best foot forward.”
Another reason she said Oakland is going to be motivated is because the players might feel slighted that they weren’t given a chance to play for the bigger teams in the state.
“Those are kids that most everybody on their roster is from the state,” Merchant said. “We don’t always recruit those kids, so they may be feeling like we looked over them.”
She said Oakland is well-coached and plays in such a way that makes them a difficult matchup.
“They play a style that is very effective for their skill set; they play a team game,” she said. “We know we’re going to get their best effort. It’s on the road, and it’s Super Bowl game for them, so it’s going to be a challenge.”
Not just defense
Although having the No. 1 statistical defense in the country might be the most prestigious stat, it’s not the only one the Spartans can say they own.
MSU leads the Big Ten in six other areas, including scoring margin ( 28), field goal percentage defense (.292), fewest turnovers per game (12) and rebounding margin ( 10).
MSU outrebounded Milwaukee 49-29 on Saturday and narrowly beat North Carolina State on the boards 38-34, a goal sophomore center Jasmine Hines said was a confidence booster.
She said they have been focusing on rebounding and need to keep that strong play up if they want to continue having success.
“Every game, we try to make rebounding a big deal,” Hines said. “N.C. State was a big game for us because they go to the glass hard, so we really knew we had to box out hard.”