Big off the bench
Spartans find solid core off the bench in Taylor, Johnson, Hines
As the No. 25 MSU women’s basketball program travels to play Nebraska tonight, it can only hope the second-ever meeting with the Cornhuskers goes as well as the first.
Tonight marks the first time the Spartans (16-2 overall, 4-1 Big Ten ) ever have traveled to Lincoln, Neb., with tip-off scheduled for 8 p.m. Last season, MSU welcomed Nebraska (13-6, 3-3) to the Big Ten with a 20-point victory at Breslin Center in the first-ever matchup between the two schools.
“I mean going into an absolutely new gym is always difficult — especially with the type of crowd that we’re going to be going into,” senior forward and captain Courtney Schiffauer said.
“So you just have to make sure that the younger players aren’t even thinking about that, it’s thinking about each play, each minute. It’s not about the win it’s about each possession, so just keeping it very small and simple until we get to the end of the game.”
Nebraska is 9-3 this season at the Devaney Center — its home arena — but has dropped the last two conference games on its home floor. The Cornhuskers boast the fourth-best home attendance in the Big Ten with an average crowd of 4,465.
The Spartans have made a living all season of focusing their defensive efforts around containing their opponent’s best player. None of MSU’s opponents’ leading scorers have reached their average against the Spartans this season while being held to 29.8 percent shooting.
“It’s expected from the coaches, and I think we expect each other to be held accountable for doing that,” Schiffauer said. “We take pride in it. If Klarissa’s guarding their best player I know she takes pride in stopping them. If I have to guard a good player, I know I take pride in stopping them. I think it’s not just one person either — it’s definitely a team effort.”
Tonight MSU’s defensive attention will be focused on two of the conference’s top-10 scorers in forward Jordan Hooper and guard Lindsey Moore.
The 6-foot-2 Hooper’s 17.8 points per game puts her at No. 6 in scoring, while Moore’s 15.5 average is good enough for ninth. Hooper also is the third-best rebounder in the Big Ten, averaging 8.8 per contest.
MSU leads the conference in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and 3-point field goal percentage defense. The Spartans ranked in the top-10 nationally in those same categories as of the last NCAA statistics report on Jan. 20.
“(Head) coach (Suzy) Merchant herself is a defensive, prideful person,” senior guard Jasmine Thomas said. “So that just carries over to our team concepts. I feel like defense has given us that identity. I just feel like sticking to that — we all take pride in that.”
Since Merchant took over in 2007, MSU has a 29-16 record on the road — the best in the conference during that period.
Schiffauer and Thomas credited the pattern of road success to a combination of coaching, leadership and the mental makeup of this year’s team. Also worth noting is MSU is the only Big Ten team to use the same starting lineup all season, so there is consistency on the floor.
“That says a lot about the kids,” Merchant said Monday. “I think you should be proud of it but, you know, you can’t think about what you’ve done. You’ve got to think about what you’re about to do.
“ … Those don’t win you games — things you’ve done in the past don’t win you the next one.”