Long road stretches can make or break a team’s season.
For the MSU women’s basketball team, it’s even tougher considering the Spartans already have lost five conference games.
The Spartans might have found their magic elixir — run a little bit, run some more and run again.
MSU’s transition game has taken off the last two games behind freshman guard Jasmine Thomas, sophomore guard Porschè Poole and junior guard Brittney Thomas.
“Having Jasmine Thomas on the floor automatically creates that,” MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said. “She is so fast. You watch films, she gets that thing and she’s at halfcourt. It’s hard for them to trap us when she’s on the floor because she just goes right by; they can’t get to it. Now she just has to keep her composure and knock down those pull-up jumpers.”
Together, the trio has combined for 49 points during MSU’s last two wins, but what they’ve done while on the floor at the same time — creating team-wide aggressiveness — hasn’t shown up on the stat sheet.
Merchant said she probably won’t play the three together for long stretches for rebounding reasons, but likes the look she gets from the trio, especially when Brittney Thomas and Jasmine Thomas are together.
“Jasmine has a scoring mentality, so it’s not like playing two passing point guards,” Merchant said.
“You have a scoring-mentality PG and you have Brittney, who’s kind of the floor general who calms the storm and gets us into what we need to. I think you’re going to see the two of them a lot more. She’s earned it.”
Merchant also said Poole is in line for more minutes.
“She’s really good at leaking out,” Merchant said. “She has a real good feel for anticipating when we’re about to get the defensive rebound and kind of creeping out. She kind of ignites our transition game.”
Against Northwestern (12-8 overall, 3-6 Big Ten) tonight, the Spartans (13-7, 4-5) will have to contend with Wildcats center Amy Jaeschke, who earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors this past week. She averaged 23.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, five blocks and three assists per game, including a 30-point outburst Sunday against Iowa.
“I feel like there’s not one player that can beat our team,” senior center Lauren Aitch said. “The only player I think that has ever done that was (Oklahoma State’s Andrea Riley). Jaeschke, I feel like we’re going to do our best on her. Ultimately, I don’t think one person is going to beat our whole team. We just need to shut down everything else.”
Last season in Evanston, Ill., Jaeschke scored 22 points in 35 minutes, but no other Wildcat scored more than nine in a 74-54 MSU win.
A win tonight would continue to help MSU rise in the Big Ten standings after its tough start, especially with Ohio State falling to Purdue on Monday.
“It opens up a lot of stuff, but if you really look at the spread in the Big Ten, games have been lost by two, three points,” Aitch said. “I feel like the Big Ten is wide open. On any given night any team can beat any team.”
After closing out both Purdue and Minnesota last week in the second half, sophomore forward Lykendra Johnson said the team needs to continue to bring the energy it had against the Golden Gophers.
“In (the Minnesota) game, we didn’t give up at all,” Johnson said. “We were fighting because we wanted it so bad.”
Having just started a stretch where the team is on the road for four of its next five games, Merchant said the Spartans need to keep fighting.
“We have to find a way on the road,” Merchant said. “Northwestern, with the way they play, they have Jaeschke, she’s coming off a 30-point game. They have their halfcourt trap back into their 2-3 zone and they’re not going to foul you.
“We just need to keep worrying about ourselves and focus our energy and enthusiasm on the next play.”