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Wednesday, August 20, 2014


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Can I Get a WHoop, WHoop?

Williams tears ACL for fourth time


By Omari Sankofa II          Last updated: 04/01/14 5:11pm         

MSU athletics announced Tuesday that junior center Madison Williams suffered a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. Surgery was completed last Thursday, March 27, and the typical recovery time is 4-6 months.

This is the fourth ACL injury of Williams’ career and the second on her right knee. Williams tore her right ACL before the 2010-11 season, missed all but three games of the 2011-12 season because of the injury, and missed the entire 2012-13 season with left ACL tears.

Williams had something of a comeback campaign the 2013-14 season, playing an average of eight minutes in 17 games. She grabbed eight rebound on two separate occasions and blocked a career-high seven shots against Ohio State on Jan. 26.

Most recently, Williams blocked four shots in eight minutes of action last Tuesday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against North Carolina. The Spartans were eliminated, 62-53.

It wasn’t a painless season, as Williams often could not practice because of soreness and lack of conditioning. But it was an encouraging season that had the program looking toward the future, and the latest ACL tear could spell the end of her career.


Prediction: Reporters split on MSU-UNC tournament game


By Omari Sankofa II, Robert Bondy          Last updated: 03/25/14 3:35pm         

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — State News women’s basketball reporter Omari Sankofa II and sports reporter Robert Bondy predict the outcome of tonight’s MSU-UNC NCAA tourney game.

Omari Sankofa II
It’s been five years since the MSU women’s basketball team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. In my humble opinion, that streak ends tonight.

MSU will face a young North Carolina team that held its own in a loaded ACC that was led by powerhouse Notre Dame, who went undefeated for the first time in program history.

The No. 4 seed Tar Heels, led by National Freshman of the Year Diamond DeShields, are an athletic team that takes advantage of transition opportunities when possible.

Yesterday, head coach Suzy Merchant said she is unsure if there is a team in the NCAA who can out-run North Carolina.

However, youth can be both a benefit and a disadvantage, and Tar Heel players expressed concern over the slow starts that plagued the team over the course of the season. A slow start almost led to loss against Tennessee-Martin on Sunday, and North Carolina had to close the game on a 28-8 run to escape with a 60-58 victory.

Seniors Annalise Pickrel and Klarissa Bell haven’t made it past the second round in their four years here at MSU. It’s reasonable to expect strong performances from the veteran duo, but the difference-maker for the Spartans will be redshirt freshman Aerial Powers.

Powers, one of the top freshmen in the NCAA, will face off against DeShields in a matchup that will be key to both sides. DeShields had a slow start against Tennessee-Martin on Sunday, scoring 13 of her 15 points in the second half. Powers, on the other hand, was electric, finishing with 26 points, 18 rebounds, and a couple blocks and steals.

MSU’s combination of size and veteran leadership, along with a size advantage down low, will ultimately be too much for North Carolina to handle. After tonight’s game, it will be MSU who will seal a trip to Stanford, CA next weekend.

MSU: 71 North Carolina: 65

Robert Bondy

The road comes to an end on Tuesday for MSU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in dramatic fashion.

MSU looked leaps and bounds better then the Tar Heels in the first round games, where MSU dominated their opponent and North Carolina had to overcome an 18-point deficit late. But as both coaches put it in their press conferences on Monday, the past doesn’t matter in the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina has been notorious for slow starts all season and the Spartans will take advantage of the slow start, jumping to an early double digit lead in the first half. MSU will be able to hold a comfortable lead at half, with freshman guard Aerial Powers having nearly a double-double already.

But Powers can’t keep DeShields of North Carolina in check all night. DeShields will hit her stride in the second half and begin to take over the game for the Tar Heels.

MSU will use a couple big three-point shots from senior forward Annalise Pickrel down the stretch to keep MSU ahead, but in the final three minutes, North Carolina will take its first lead of the game.

Behind a home crowd in Carmichael Arena, the Tar Heels will ice the game late with free throws from DeShields and shatter MSU’s hopes of reaching the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2009.

North Carolina: 69 MSU: 64


North Carolina up next for Spartans


By Omari Sankofa II          Last updated: 03/23/14 9:43pm         

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The No. 5 seed women’s basketball team will face off against No. 4 seed North Carolina on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

North Carolina survived a scare Sunday at Carmichael Arena. Despite trailing No. 13 Tennessee-Martin by 18 in the second half, the Tar Heels utilized a 15-0 run to prevent a home upset.

Star freshman guard Diamond Deshields scored 13 of her 15 points in the second half for North Carolina.

The Spartans easily handled their first round game against Hampton, defeating the Pirates 91-61. Redshirt freshman Aerial Powers had 26 points and grabbed a program NCAA Tournament record 18 rebounds.


Prediction: Women's basketball will avoid 5-12 upset today against Hampton


By Omari Sankofa II, Robert Bondy          Last updated: 03/23/14 10:57am         

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — State News women’s basketball reporter Omari Sankofa and sports reporter Robert Bondy predict today’s MSU-Hampton NCAA Tournament game.

Omari Sankofa

The women’s basketball team has had a tendency to play down to competition this season, but there’s little reason to believe they will fail to take care of business against Hampton on Sunday.

The Hampton Pirates, who swept the MEAC, play an up-tempo offense and pressuring defense. The Spartans also play an up-tempo style and are deadly when redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers and freshman guard Tori Jankoska are attacking in transition.

In other words, the Spartans should feel right at home.

Hampton is led by senior forward Keiara Avant, who averages 16.2 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.4 steals. She will matchup against senior forward Annalise Pickrel, one of the best shooters and defenders for MSU.

The Pirates are a poor-shooting team from behind the arc, meaning the Spartans should find success given they pack the paint on defense and push the pace on offense.

MSU: 75 Hampton: 59

Robert Bondy

MSU is coming off potentially its worst outing of the season a few weeks ago against Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, and will use the 28-point beating as motivation on Sunday.

The lady Spartans will come out firing on all cyclinders, looking to prove they are better than that lost. MSU will cruise to an early double digit lead, but the Hampton Pirates will cut the deficit to only seven at half.

Hampton will come out with the momentum in the second half and will take the lead late in the game. But senior leaders Klarissa Bell and Annalise Pickrel will power MSU to a comeback. The duo combine for 30 points and MSU survives the traditional No. 5-12 scare to move on to a second-round matchup with host No. 4 North Carolina.

MSU: 73 Hampton: 64


Incoming Spartan recruit named Miss Basketball


By Omari Sankofa II          Last updated: 03/12/14 6:35pm         

The women’s basketball team’s aptitude with recruiting continues.

The Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan announced today MSU women’s basketball signee Lexi Gussert is the 2014 Miss Basketball for the state of Michigan.

Gussert, a 6-foot forward at Forest Park High School in Crystal Park, Mich, is averaging 29.4 points.

An accurate shooter from deep, Gussert’s 101 3-pointers are the most in state history.

Gussert currently has 2,593 points for her career, the fourth-most in state history and most-ever in the Upper Peninsula.

MSU has four of the last five Michigan Miss Basketball recipients — Gussert, senior guard Klarissa Bell (2010), junior center Jasmine Hines (2011) and freshman guard Tori Jankoska (2013).


Agee plays key role in Spartan victory over U-M


By Omari Sankofa II          Last updated: 03/08/14 9:58am         

When discussing MSU’s productive freshman class, redshirt freshman Branndais Agee is often overlooked.

But it was Agee who was the difference-maker in Friday’s 61-58 win over Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, scoring four of MSU’s last six points and grabbing a key steal in the final minute to seal the comeback victory in Indianapolis, IN.

“I knew I was going to come back out there and I knew I needed to play defense, score, whatever they needed me to do, I knew I needed to do it,” Agee said.

As freshman guard Tori Jankoska and redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers led the Spartans in the score book more often than not this season, Agee was coming off of the bench, working to get her legs back under her as she recovered from injury.

Agee missed much of the 2012-13 season after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in practice on Dec. 13, 2012. On Wednesday, Agee admitted she’s still only at about 70 percent.

“Everybody’s journey is different, especially in her situation where it’s three freshmen and two of the freshmen are starting,” said head coach Suzy Merchant.”

Agee’s opportunity came when junior guard Kiana Johnson was suspended indefinitely on Feb. 5. With Jankoska being promoted to the starting lineup, Agee’s minutes off the bench increased, ans she was able to display how her athleticism and length can impact games.

“There’s natural things she does, driving the ball, rebounding, that kind of thing,” Merchant said. “I give Branndais credit, it’s not an easy pill to swallow when you’re watching 2 of the 3 freshmen start, play a lot of minutes and you’re just trying to fight for yours.”

Agee should continue to have a role as a defender and rebounder off the bench. And with her only being at 70 percent, there’s no telling how high her ceiling is.

“The thing is, even when you’re not playing, you always gotta stay ready,” Agee said. “That’s what I did. I stayed in the gym as much as anybody else. I still kept working and I knew my time was coming.”


All five Spartan starters earn All-Big Ten recognition


By Omari Sankofa II          Last updated: 03/03/14 6:26pm         

A day after earning a share of the Big Ten Championship, the No. 19 women’s basketball team received a healthy amount of recognition in the postseason All-Big Ten teams.

All five starters were represented on an all-conference team, led by Aerial Powers, who was named to the First Team.

Powers also was named to the All-Freshman team by coaches, but lost the Big Ten Freshman of the Year honor to Minnesota’s Amanda Zahui B.

Senior Annalise Pickrel was named to the second team, and freshman Tori Jankoska, junior Becca Mills and senior Klarissa Bell were named honorable mentions. Bell was also named to the All-Defensive team and received a Big Ten Sportsmanship honor.

MSU is the only team with five players named to All-Big Ten teams. In her seven seasons as head coach, Suzy Merchant has a Big Ten-best 25 All Big Ten selections.

Powers, who was the only freshman voted onto the First Team by coaches, led the Spartans in points (13.8), rebounds (8.0) and steals (1.8) and was fourth in assists (2.4) and blocks (0.6).

Still no Kiana

During her press conference on Monday, head coach Suzy Merchant said junior guard Kiana Johnson still is suspended indefinitely heading into the Big Ten Tournament.

The Spartans are 6-1 since Johnson’s suspension, with freshman guard Tori Jankoska and senior guard Klarissa Bell handling point guard duties.


Tori Jankoska named Big Ten Freshman of the Week


By Emily Jenks          Last updated: 02/25/14 8:10pm         

At 5-foot-8, freshman guard Tori Jankoska is hardly the most intimidating player on the MSU women’s basketball team.

But her offensive ferocity and skill on the court earned her a place on two Big Ten Player of the Week lists.

Jankoska was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week and one of three members of the Big Ten Player of the Week Honor Roll, following an impressive win against Minnesota on Monday night.

Jankoska led the Spartans with 21 points, including four 3-pointers against the Golden Gophers. In two games last week against Minnesota and Wisconsin, she averaged 17.5 points, six assists and 2.5 steals.

Against Wisconsin, Jankoska’s seven assists and five steals set personal and career highs.

She holds the highest average points per game on the team in Big Ten games with 13.8 points, and she’s second on the team for the season with 12.7 points.

Her 57 three-pointers put Jankoska in second for highest all-time among freshman. Jankoska leads the team in 3-pointers with 2.1 per game and a 37.7 percent three-point shooting percentage, landing her in the top 15 in the conference.

She is climbing the MSU freshman points all-time ladder. Jankoska currently stands in seventh with 342 points.

Jankoska came to MSU from Freeland High School, where she broke the school point record with 2,333 career points, earning impressive credentials.

She was named Michigan’s 2013 Miss Basketball, and was chosen first-team all-state as a sophomore, junior and senior. She was an honorable mention as a freshman.


Many potential end-of-season scenarios on table for Spartans


By Omari Sankofa II          Last updated: 02/23/14 6:40pm         

Editor’s note: This post has been modified to correctly reflect the nature of tiebreakers and shares of the conference title in the event of a tie.

Monday will be a crucial day for the No. 23 women’s basketball team (18-8 overall, 10-3 Big Ten). Currently tied with No. 17 Nebraska for second place in Big Ten standings, where the Spartans ultimately finish in the rankings likely will ride on a game other than their 7 p.m. matchup with Minnesota at Breslin Center.

At 6 p.m. Monday, Nebraska (20-5, 10-3) will take on first place No. 9 Penn State (21-5, 12-2). A variety of scenarios could play out depending on who wins or loses Monday night.

Penn State likely would secure first place with a win, but if Nebraska upsets Penn State, Nebraska will be just a win behind the Nittany Lions with two games remaining on the schedule.

Penn State has one game remaining, which opens the potential of a 13-3 tie between the teams if Penn State wins its final game against Michigan and Nebraska wins its final two games against Illinois and Purdue. Purdue currently is tied for fourth place with Iowa.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers are the hottest team in the Big Ten, having won their last seven games.

If MSU wins its final three games, all against teams in the bottom half of the conference, they can potentially tie both Nebraska and Penn State with a 13-3 final record in the conference. If MSU ties with Penn State or Nebraska or both squads, each would share the Big Ten title.

Big Ten rules dictate in the event of a multi-team tiebreaker, the tiebreakers only will come into play for Big Ten Tournament seeding.

The tiebreaker would involve head-to-head matchups or the best record among the three teams. The tiebreakers then move onto the team’s record versus the next team down in the standings.

From there, the team with the best record against the other two teams would place in second. Assuming Nebraska upsets Penn State on Monday, Penn State would place in second with a 1-1 record against MSU and Nebraska. MSU is 1-2 against the other teams, meaning they would place third.

Therefore, MSU not only needs to win its final three games, but the Spartans would need Penn State to lose its final two games and Nebraska to lose one of its final three. Such a scenario would leave MSU with a 13-3 first conference record and Nebraska and Penn State tied at 12-4.

The odds are not in MSU’s favor, but anything can happen. It all starts with the outcome of Monday’s matchups.


Powers earns Freshman of the Week honors for 4th time


By Omari Sankofa II          Last updated: 02/03/14 7:07pm         

For the fourth time this season, freshman guard Aerial Powers has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week. She is now tied with Minnesota redshirt freshman center Amanda Zahui B. for the most in the conference this season.

Powers averaged 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and four assists in wins over Wisconsin and Purdue. She scored efficiently, making 10-of-20 shot attempts and making her only shot from beyond the arc.

Powers was pivotal in the upset win over then-No. 19 Purdue on Sunday, nabbing her sixth double-double of the season with 19 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

She leads the team in four categories this season, points (13.8), rebounds (7.9), steals (1.9) and field goal percentage (50.9).