Five keys to victory for women's basketball team against No. 8 Penn State
From left to right, sophomore center Madison Williams, senior forward Courtney Schiffauer, sophomore forward Becca Mills cheer during the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament against Michigan on March 8, 2013, at Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines 62-46. Julia Nagy/The State News
The MSU women’s basketball team ended up on the winning side of its season series with rival Michigan last night by way of a 62-46 win in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. The Spartans and Wolverines split the regular season matchups, each winning on their home floors.
That won’t be the case today as MSU faces No. 1-seed Penn State, the regular season conference champion, which beat MSU by double digits in both meetings this season.
Three Nittany Lions were named to one of the three All-Big Ten teams as chosen by the coaches, led by Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas. Penn State also had two players on the conference’s All-Defensive team.
Here are five things to watch as the Spartans take on Penn State, ranked No. 8 nationally, at approximately 7:30 p.m. tonight on Big Ten Network:
1. The supporting cast
Lucas didn’t lead the Nittany Lions in scoring in either regular season contest against the Spartans, rather it was fellow guards Dara Taylor and Alex Bentley dropping 18 and 24 points, respectively, on MSU. There’s no doubt a prolific scorer of Lucas’ caliber will be the focus of MSU’s defensive strategy, but the Spartans have to respect the players around her and not let role players beat them.
2. Will Bell stay aggressive?
Junior guard Klarissa Bell scored seven of MSU’s first 11 points against U-M on Friday, if she comes out with similar intensity then the Spartans could be in good shape today on the neutral floor. Good things happen for the Sparans when Bell is aggressive on the offensive end, and she’s probably the only MSU player capable of matching Lucas from a scoring standpoint. She has proven all season that she’s one of the Big Ten’s best defenders, but MSU needs her to be a dominant scorer throughout the postseason.
3. Can Pickrel be the X-factor?
The Spartans lost redshirt freshman Akyah Taylor to injury against the Wolverines last night, which shortens MSU’s playing rotation to just seven players. The injury potentially opens the door for junior forward Annalise Pickrel and her diverse skill set to have a profound impact on this one. At 6-foot-3 Pickrel has the size and versatility to play both the small and power forward positions, which coupled with her 3-point shooting ability make her a dangerous matchup for most teams. When she plays at the power forward spot, which is more likely with Taylor out, she can open up things for the offense by drawing the Penn State bigs away from the basket and then posting up smaller defenders from the small forward spot.
4. Johnson phone home
For the first time in its 19-year history, the Big Ten Tournament is being played in Hoffman Estates, Ill., a suburb of sophomore guard Kiana Johnson’s hometown of Chicago. The Spartans need her to show up in a big way today after a lackluster outing against U-M with seven points and seven asssists. Similar to Bell, Johnson can play the spark plug role for the MSU offense when scoring comes at a premium.
Today we’ll see how much of last night’s game was simply a product of the emotion of seeking revenge against the Wolverines, or whether the Spartans are clicking into a higher gear for the postseason. Penn State can score in bunches, and without an energizing Breslin Center crowd behind them, it will be interesting to see how MSU weathers the opening storm of the first 10 minutes. MSU needs to remain level-headed and can’t let big shots or surges from the Nittany Lions deflate them or this one will be ugly quick.