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Merchant sees positive signs in early tournament games

November 30, 2009

MSU women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant pointed to junior forward Kalisha Keane as her team’s biggest x-factor during its two wins in the Junkanoo Jam last weekend.

A versatile inside-out player, Keane came into the weekend averaging 4.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game but exploded for 13 points against George Washington on Friday and 20 points and a career-high 13 rebounds Saturday in MSU’s double-overtime win against Oklahoma State.

“Up until that point, I don’t think she played her best basketball and she really played within the flow,” Merchant said. “She came into the (George Washington) game and scored right away for us a couple different times and got us kind of back started where we needed to. And obviously she was big for us in the Oklahoma State game and had a double-double.”

Against Oklahoma State, Keane also had a deft passing touch, registering four assists, including a crucial feed to senior forward Aisha Jefferson that resulted in the go-ahead basket in the second overtime. She was named to the all-tournament team.

“We need her,” Merchant said. “When she plays like that, the sky’s the limit for this team.”

Keane, who averaged 10.1 points per game her first two seasons, seemingly has found a consistent outside stroke this season, hitting 42.9 percent (6-of-14) of her 3-pointers, up from her career average of 28.6 percent. She also is second on the team with 18 assists and leads the team with 13 steals.

Making an impact

Sophomore guard Taylor Alton played eight minutes in both games and could see that role continue. She scored three points in both games and had two rebounds, two blocks and a steal against George Washington.

“We’re trying to play Tay a little bit more because she’s a bigger guard that can rebound and she can shoot it and can extend defenses,” Merchant said. “She doesn’t have maybe the handles as some of the other guards, but we’ve talked to her about just doing what she can do, not trying to be a player that you’re not.”

Alton appeared in nine games last season, averaging 1.4 points, but did shoot 46.2 percent (6-of-13). She played 59 minutes all of last season and already has played 20 this year.

“You watch her in practice and she can really, really stroke it,” Merchant said. “She just needs minutes. We’ve been trying to give her early minutes.”

Merchant praised Alton’s defensive play, noting she might not be the quickest, but she makes up for it by always being in the right place.

“She knows angles, she can read passing lanes and she jumps to the ball,” she said. “She’s very, very fundamentally sound and she rebounds it very well. We need a rebounding guard right now.”

Personnel department

Merchant said freshman Kelsey Smith is a redshirt candidate because of MSU’s depth in the frontcourt this season.

Smith, a 6-foot-4 center from St. Charles, Ill., didn’t dress for either of the Spartans’ games in the Junkanoo Jam and a redshirt is a “discussion item.”

“We’re talking about it,” Merchant said. “That’s a decision we’re trying to come to. It hasn’t been finalized, but we hope to make a decision here. It really isn’t anything about her as much as it is about the depth that we have. You want kids to be around and be effective every time they’re in uniform and I’m not sure we’re capable of giving her the minutes on game night that she needs.”

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