The No. 11 MSU women’s basketball team is excelling in almost all aspects of the game this season.
It hold the highest national ranking in the Big Ten, id second place in the conference standings and among the top five in the league in most of the statistical categories. However, there’s one place the Spartans have encountered problems this season: the free-throw line.
Through 18 games, whenever a player went to the free-throw line, the Spartans had to brace themselves to fight for a rebound. Their 64.5 free-throw percentage placed them in unfamiliar territory this season — last place in the conference.
Although senior guard Brittney Thomas’ record-breaking 14 free throws Sunday in a 76-57 win against Purdue will garner the most attention, it is the Spartans collective effort at the charity stripe that will benefit the team most in the coming games.
At Wisconsin and against Purdue, the Spartans shot 84 percent (43-for-51).
With a battle for first place in the Big Ten approaching against Penn State, followed by a rivalry game against Michigan, head coach Suzy Merchant can breathe easy knowing her team will capitalize on free points.
However, at her Monday press conference, Merchant revealed she wasn’t as worried as one might have expected.
“I don’t really get too panicky about the free-throw line,” she said.
With the Spartans outrebounding conference opponents by more than 10 per game and leading the league in offensive boards, it’s no wonder Merchant isn’t stressed about the bricked free throws.
“I always tell the shooters, ‘Hey, who cares if you miss it because we got people around you.’ So maybe that’s their mentality,” she said. “They feel good — make or miss — that we’re going to get a shot and have their back.”
Although she’s not known for her singing, senior forward Kalisha Keane certainly is not shy of center stage.
The Ontario, Canada, native has been added to the Wade Watch List — the women’s basketball version of the Heisman Trophy — for her jarring point total and performance under pressure.
She’s hit two near-buzzer-beating shots this season, the most recent coming in the final seconds of Thursday’s contest at Wisconsin when she hit a 3-pointer to force overtime and led her team to a huge win.
However, she provides much more than just numbers, Merchant said. It’s the leadership factor that impresses the team the most.
“We have a kid, (redshirt freshman center) Madison Williams, who blew her knee out who says the most inspirational player she’s ever been around is Kalisha Keane, and she’s never played a tick on the clock with her,” Merchant said.
“And then you turn around and hear (junior forward) Taylor Alton say the same thing about Kalisha Keane, who basically plays her spot. And, (Taylor) never really had the opportunity in her first two years, and she still looks up to her.”
A proper welcome
Purdue guard Courtney Moses has taken the Big Ten by storm this season. As a freshman, she is one of the top scorers in the conference, averaging 13 points and leading the Boilermakers to a 16-8 record.
Expecting Moses to go off at Breslin Center, she was held to five points and mostly was covered by Thomas.
“I think when you see a freshman being one of the leading scorers and the defensive player that I am, I’m like, ‘I don’t think she’s been welcomed into the Big Ten right,’” Thomas said after Sunday’s game. “You know what I mean? It’s kind of like a pride thing where it’s like, ‘Man, she’s a freshman, and she’s a leading scorer?’ It’s like who’s been guarding her? Who’s been showing her this Big Ten is hard.”
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