Kalisha Keane celebrated her 21st birthday Wednesday.
Although the calendar says the junior forward officially is older, Keane’s most important growth has come on the court, where her ever-increasing maturity is paying dividends this season for the MSU women’s basketball team.
“I do feel it,” Keane said. “It’s weird how much you grow from your freshman year, sophomore year, then into your junior year. I can really feel the difference out there on the court. We’ve been running these systems now for three years, so you get a better flow of it; you understand why exactly we’re setting that screen, that kind of stuff.”
Always one of MSU’s most dynamic offensive players, Keane has come on in a big way during conference play, averaging 10.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 26.2 minutes per game entering Thursday.
“She’s so creative around the bucket,” junior forward Cetera Washington said. “She has good feet, and she can take you off the dribble, play inside and outside. She’s a great four-man.”
More importantly, Keane is shooting 43.7 percent in conference play, one-tenth of a percent behind senior forward Aisha Jefferson for the team lead with 23 more attempts. Her 3-point field goal percentage in Big Ten play, 41 percent, is 13.7 percent higher than anybody else who has at least 10 attempts.
“I’ve been trying to stay aggressive offensively,” Keane said.
“My teammates are really finding me in open positions. I’m just trying to put more of an emphasis on (3-point shooting), trying to knock down shots because of what we lost with (sophomore forward Courtney Schiffauer), trying to fill that void a little bit.”
Moreover, during MSU’s last two wins at Minnesota and Northwestern, Keane shot 7-of-13 from behind the long line and hit big shot after big shot to lead MSU to two come-from-behind wins.
Against the Golden Gophers, Keane hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, giving the Spartans a back-breaking six-point lead that eventually extended to 10.
Against Northwestern, MSU saw its eight-point first-half lead turn into a seven-point second-half deficit. With the game possibly slipping away, Keane hit a three that set MSU on a run to regain the lead. When the Wildcats fought back and took a four-point lead, Keane again answered with a triple for MSU, sending the Spartans on a 12-4 run to end the game.
“I’m really trying to focus on us getting wins, so whatever I can do to will my team to win or help us to win is what I’m going to do,” Keane said. “To be honest, I don’t really think, ‘Oh, this is a big shot.’ If it’s open, I’m going to take it, and hopefully I make them more than I miss them.”
The biggest change in Keane’s game is letting the offense come to her, stepping in and knocking down shots instead of forcing them.
“The difference is she’s been shooting in more of a flow,” head coach Suzy Merchant said.
“Sometimes she holds on to it and kind of fakes it and looks around and then kind of shoots it. (Now) she’s catching it and stepping into her shot and just shooting it all in one rhythm and one flow, and I think that’s been a big part of her success for us.”
Keane took 413 shots as a freshman, but that number dropped to 224 in her sophomore season. She should surpass that total with 178 through 21 games, but the key has been her shooting percentage, which is at a career-best 39.9 percent.
“I’ve come a long way with that just from my freshman year, taking errant shots a lot,” Keane said. “I’m growing up a little bit in that respect. With age, comes wisdom. I’m just taking better shots.”
Keane’s passing has stood out this season, as well, but also has gotten her in trouble at times. She’s second on the team with 54 assists, but also leads the team with 57 turnovers.
“Having her out there is positive for us,” Merchant said. “One thing I’ve talked to her about is eliminating her turnovers. Sometimes she wants to make that great play instead of the one that’s in front of her. But you’ve got to appreciate a kid that wants to make a play and have the ball in her hands.”
Washington said Keane is “like no other four-man that I’ve ever seen.”
“She has great court vision,” Washington said.
“She sees (senior center Allyssa DeHaan), she sees the guards, she kicks out. Some passes I don’t even know she’s throwing it, and she throws it. They’re great passes, and we need a player like her on the floor.”