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MSU clinches share of Big Ten, still has work left to do

February 21, 2011

MSU women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant speaks at her weekly Monday morning press conference. The No. 10 Spartans just clinched a share of the Big Ten title Sunday with a 69-56 win over Illinois. It is just the third time in the history of the MSU program that the team has won the Big Ten championship. The Spartans will welcome their nemesis Ohio State to Breslin Center on Thursday and attempt to clinch the Big Ten championship outright for the first time in school history. The last time these teams met this season, the Spartans lost at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio, 67-53, and shot only 29 percent for the game.

Photo by Anthony Odoardi | The State News

For MSU women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant, being crowned Big Ten champions was something she and the No. 10 Spartans aspired to do when the season began.

“That’s what the expectations are here and if you don’t achieve that you feel like you disappointed people,” Merchant said. “So it’s really rewarding and refreshing to be able to stand up and put a smile on your face and certainly know that people are proud of the program and appreciate what you did.”

With a 69-56 win at Illinois on Sunday, the Spartans clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title for the third time in the history of the program. However, Merchant and the team declined the option to have the trophy presented to them at Assembly Hall, citing that her team still has work to do.

“We haven’t really won it yet,” she said. “We’re part of it and we won in some level and some form, but we have an opportunity to do something that no other team has done here at Michigan State and until we do that, obviously, you know, we’d like to wait that out and see how that plays out.”

The Spartans are hungry for more than just a share of the title. When Ohio State comes to town Thursday night, the team will have a chance to go down in the books as the only team to claim the trophy in 2010-11 and also be remembered as the only MSU team to ever win the Big Ten outright.

After the game against the Fighting Illini, Merchant spoke to Spartan Sports Network and said senior forward Cetera Washington puts clinching just a share of the Big Ten the best way.

“(She) said it’s like sharing your boyfriend,” Merchant said on Sunday.

Clearly the Spartans aren’t too enthusiastic about the possibility of calling another team in the conference their equals. That could be why Merchant believes even on the highly emotional senior day the team will be all business to knock off the Buckeyes.

“It’s kind of roll up your sleeves and go to work,” she said.

Winning big?
At this point in the season, the Spartans could use one big win over a team such as Ohio State to garner some extra national attention. A blowout win certainly would boost the Spartans chances of earning a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament when Selection Monday comes around on March 14.

As long as the team continues winning the amount of points those wins come by is really irrelevant, Merchant said.

“It’d be nice to beat people by 30 points but the reality of it is there’s great coaches in this league who have done a very good job recruiting,” she said. “And as I’ve said in the past, I think there have been tiers … top to bottom it’s a pretty talented conference.”

First time’s a charm
For the first time this season and in her career, senior forward Kalisha Keane has been named the Big Ten Player of the Week, the conference office announced Monday.

Keane averaged 22 points and five rebounds last week while leading the Spartans to two big victories. To clinch the Big Ten title Keane tallied 27 points and went 4-for-7 from behind the arc.

The Ajax, Ontario native, is currently tied for sixth in the conference in scoring, averaging 16.3 points per game. She is the second player on the Spartans to win the weekly award this season, with junior forward Lykendra Johnson taking the honor three times.

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