Women's basketball wins share of Big Ten title
Klarissa Bell and Annalise Pickrel were Big Ten champions as freshmen on the 2011 MSU women's basketball team squad.
Now in their senior year, Bell and Pickrel left Breslin Center Sunday night as champions once again.
The seniors' last game at Breslin Center was certainly one to celebrate, as the No. 21 women's basketball team (21-8 overall, 13-3 Big Ten) earned a share of the 2014 Big Ten title with No. 8 Penn State with a 76-56 victory over Indiana.
"The first one was awesome, we were a part of it. But this is more because of us," Pickrel said after the game. "This one just means more because this is our team now. I was just a part of that team. This is our team."
Head coach Suzy Merchant becomes the first MSU women's basketball head coach to win two Big Ten championships, and Bell and Pickrel became the first seniors to win two. "
There was times where I had some doubts," Merchant said regarding the team's early season struggles defensively. "We didn't defend anybody, so it took them a while to buy in.
Merchant said the 81-76 home loss against IPFW on Dec. 1 was a wake-up call for MSU.
"Sometimes, you have setbacks that propel you to a better place."
Leading by 26 points with two minutes remaining, Bell and Pickrel checked into the game, kissed the court, and immediately checked out.
It was an emotional moment for the seniors, who have seen both ups and downs in a season that hasn't always been smooth. "When I kissed the floor, it was like 'Oh my gosh,' Bell said. "Last time playing here, it's just emotional. You start off as a freshman and you're not playing much. Senior year, you're winning championships and you're starting on that team. It was emotional, a lot of thoughts were running through my head."
The Spartans clinched the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and will play the winner of the Thursday's Michigan/Indiana game on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers led MSU with 23 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and and three steals on 9-of-14 shooting.
Freshman guard Tori Jankoska had 15 points and seven rebounds, and Pickrel had 14 points and seven rebounds. Indiana freshman guard Larryn Brooks sank an early 3-pointer to give the Hoosiers a 5-2 lead, but the Spartans rattled off an 8-0 run to reclaim the lead, powered by a 3-pointer by senior forward Annalise Pickrel and 3-point play by Hines.
Indiana began to chip away at the lead by finding opportunities inside, but junior forward Becca Mills sank a spot-up 3-pointer and midrange jumper on the next possession to make it 19-12.
After missing her first five shots, Jankoska made a runner with 8:43 remaining to make it a nine-point game, 21-12.
Indiana senior forward Milika Taufa completed a 3-point play to cut the lead to eight, 23-15, but Powers had a nice crossover in transition and nailed the midrange jumper, making it a 10 point lead.
But consecutive buckets by Indiana cut it back to six with 5:06 remaining. MSU worked the lead back to double digits following a split trip to the free throw line by Bell and corner 3-pointer from Pickrel.
Following a strong first half, Powers picked up where she left off in the second half, scoring or assisting MSU's first seven points of the half. Powers then had a steal and transition layup to make it a 21-point game, 49-28, with 16:27 left in the half.
"I felt like I needed to because I know this team won't let down with this much on the line for us," Powers said of her aggressiveness. "I want to make my presence known."
Jankoska's first 3-point make of the night gave the Spartans a 55-33 lead with 14:21 remaining.
Seven minutes later, Pickrel blocked a layup try by Indiana freshman center Alexis Gassion and took it coast-to-coast, giving MSU a 24 point lead.
Jankoska sank a 3-pointer with under seven minutes remaining to give MSU a 25-point advantage, 70-45.
In transition, Bell found Pickrel for a layup to give MSU a game-high 26 point lead, 76-50, with 2:18 left in the game.