After a somewhat difficult, injury-filled non-conference schedule, the women’s basketball roster is the healthiest it’s been all season. The current three-game winning streak can attest to that.
The Spartans (9-5 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) dropped four of five during a stretch in early December that saw junior guard Kiana Johnson miss two games because of infection and junior center Madison Williams miss three after an injury scare against Temple on Nov. 26. To add to the injury woes, senior guard Klarissa Bell wasn’t practicing as a result of shin splints and junior center Jasmine Hines was limited in practice after making her season debut on Dec. 6.
At least for now, those days appear to be over. MSU has played sound ball on both sides of the court during the winning streak, shooting about 50 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from beyond the arc. Defensively, the Spartans have held opponents to 32.3 percent overall shooting during the same stretch.
Head coach Suzy Merchant showed frustration earlier in the season, as she had to adjust rotations based on what players were available. With a full roster, the team’s full potential is becoming clearer.
“I know injuries are a part of the game, it makes a difference, obviously, in rotations,” Merchant said.
The win against Minnesota in the Big Ten opener on Saturday was particularly impressive. The Spartans made a mockery of the stout Gopher defense, which topped the conference in points allowed with 55.9 and field goal percentage defense with 33.3 percent. The Spartans scored 81 points, the most allowed by the Gophers all season, on 57 percent shooting.
MSU also limited Minnesota’s NCAA-leading 3-point percentage (43 percent) to 25 percent en route to defeating the conference rival by 25.
The defensive turnaround comes after a change in practice by the coaching staff after the loss to Virginia Tech, according to redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers.
The coaches chart mistakes the girls commit during practice drills. At the end of practice, the Spartan players are required to sprint for a period of time based on the number of offenses committed during practice.
Since the system was implemented, the Spartans are 4-1.
“It really made us focus on defense and I think that got the girls and I going,” Powers said.
With the Big Ten home opener against No. 16 Nebraska (11-2, 1-0) on Thursday, the Spartans will look to continue the run of strong play.
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