Coming off one of the strongest seasons in program history that ended with a Big Ten championship, the expectations couldn’t be much higher for the MSU women’s basketball team in 2011-12.
In the team’s first exhibition of the season, the No. 25 Spartans used an overpowering first half performance to set the pace and propel the team to the victory against Lake Superior State, 94-31, at Breslin Center.
“It was amazing actually putting on the jersey,” said redshirt freshman Madison Williams, who missed all of 2010-11 after tearing the ACL in her right knee. “I was going through all of the pregame stuff and all the stuff like that and I was like grinning the whole time like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m actually going to wear these shorts to play and not just pictures and I’m going to wear the jersey and it’s going to get sweaty and it’s OK.‘”
To say the Spartans commanded the floor in the first half would be an understatement.
After 10 minutes of play, the team jumped out to a commanding 26-1 lead in large part due to junior guard Jasmine Thomas — an Academic All-Big Ten honoree in 2010 — and freshman guard Kiana Johnson. In the first half, the duo combined for 10 points, eight rebounds and nine assists to jumpstart the Spartan offense.
The half was highlighted by a 27-point run that lasted close to 10 mintues and saw the lead increase to 33-1 with 6:59 to play in the first half. In that stretch, LSSU missed its first 15 shots from the field and would turn the ball over 13 times
Although the Spartans would shoot poorly in the first half — the team shot just 34 percent from the floor — MSU would create 20 turnovers and hold the Lakers to just three field goals and a 12 percent shooting percentage.
“Instead of battling each other and our scout team everyday, it was kind of nice to get the cobwebs out a little bit on gamenight,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “It’s always positive to get these exhibition games going and we’re gonna play a much better team on Sunday, in terms of their ability to shoot the basketball.”
Lake Superior State would make adjustments at halftime and bring some fuel to the fight early in the second half. In less than five minutes in the second half, LSSU more than doubled their first half output and made an attempt to claw back in the game, 53-20, capped by a pair of three pointers by Maria Blazejewski and Raven Trammell.
But the Spartans would prove to be too strong later in the half, as back-to-back fastbreak layups from Annalise Pickrel — who was the 2010 runner-up for Michigan’s Miss Basketball — gave MSU a 61-23 lead with 13:50 left to play. MSU would get another significant run in the half, this time a 19-3 run that spanned more than seven minutes to stretch the lead to 74-26 and would seal the game for the Spartans.
Senior guard Taylor Alton — a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree — led all scorers on the evening with 13 points and six rebounds for MSU. Additionally, the sophomore forward Pickrel (12 points, two assists) and Thomas (nine points, six rebounds, two assists) would be strong for the Spartans and provide offensive depth on the floor.
Even in a victory, Merchant and her players believe there’s room for improvement. The team shot 42.7 percent from the floor on the evening and experienced a defensive lapse during the early minutes of the second half allowing the Lakers to get a easier looks at the basket.
“Well, we definitely missed a lot of layups — around the basket was not our strong point,” Pickrel said. “The guards did OK on the perimeter and I think just finishing the layups is going to make a big difference.”
The Spartans close out their exhibition season Sunday, when they host a matchup against Grand Valley State at 2 p.m.
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