For the first time in eight months, the No. 25 MSU women’s basketball team took the court at Breslin Center to play opponents aside from just each other in practice.
The team was excited to be back on the floor and it showed with the energy they brought in a 90-40 victory over Saginaw Valley State on Thursday night.
“We all were excited,” senior guard Brittney Thomas said. “Especially with the new rule where we started practice a little bit earlier this year. We’ve been grinding and beating each other up so it was nice to just see an opponent and have someone that you can take out all your aggression on.”
From the moment the Spartans won the jump ball and senior forward Cetera Washington scored the first bucket, there was no looking back for MSU head coach Suzy Merchant and company.
The team raced to a 14-3 lead, highlighted by back-to-back three pointers from senior forward Kalisha Keane, which forced the Cardinals coach to use his team’s first timeout.
Keane had the hot hand for the Spartans, shooting 8-for-12 — 4-for-4 from behind the arc — and finishing with 20 points.
“It was my last first game so it was exciting,” Keane said. “My shot was feeling good, my teammates were finding me in open positions and I was able to knock it down for us.”
Keane, last season’s Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year who averaged 9.5 points, will get the opportunity to be a full-time starter this year.
Freshman guard Klarissa Bell also had an excellent game for the Spartans. The recipient of Michigan’s 2010 Miss Basketball hit her first two shots and finished the game one rebound shy of a double-double.
“(Bell’s) one that we really, obviously, think the world of or we wouldn’t have recruited her,” Merchant said. “She’s got the length and the quickness. She’s a good defensive rebounding guard, which we’re going to need. And she has the ability to score.”
The East Lansing-native said coming onto the court and hearing the screaming fans was one of her best experiences at MSU so far.
“It was nice, a lot more people than high school,” Bell said. “Everyone was cheering, we didn’t have that in high school. It’s an awesome atmosphere, I love MSU.”
The first half concluded with a block from freshman guard Annalise Pickrel, who grabbed the ball and found a wide-open Keane for a lay-up.
With the score 42-20, MSU didn’t let up in the second half. Each basket made the Spartans bench roar with more applause for their teammates.
The team was hungry for boards as well, bringing in 52 rebounds to the Cardinals 36, something that was surprising with the loss of 6-7-freshman center Madison Williams.
“Losing (Madison) certainly was frustrating and difficult, but like I told the captains and this team, if there’s any program in this country that can handle losing key players at key times, beginning of the season, end of the season, this is the team that can do it,” Merchant said.
Sophomore Courtney Schiffauer led the team, ripping 10 rebounds. The forward, coming off of a torn ACL last season, hit the deck hard on several plays, but hopped right back up.
“Nothing limits Courtney Schiffauer,” Merchant said. “She just plays so hard and so tough and the harder she falls is probably the more she likes it. It makes her more mad and she plays at a higher level.”
Lykendra Johnson, a junior forward and captain, had 11 points and lead the team emotionally, whereas Brittney Thomas lead the team with seven assists.
11 of 13 players played at least 10 minutes.
“This team has to have a focus,” Merchant said. “We don’t have one or two kids that if they play well we’ll be okay. We need five, six, seven kids coming in and playing both ends of the floor.”