On Thursday night, the women’s basketball team put together its most meaningful dominant game of the year. If the last few weeks are any indication, there will be more to come.
MSU picked up perhaps its biggest win of the season, upsetting No. 16 Nebraska at Breslin Center, 70-57.
The Spartans led by as many as 25 and have now won four consecutive games. Continuing the run of strong defensive efforts, MSU held Nebraska to 30.8 percent shooting overall and 35.3 percent.
Redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers paced the Spartans with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Senior forward Annalise Pickrel also had a double-double, scoring 17 points on 4-6 3-point shooting to go with 10 rebounds.
“I thought Aerial played really hard,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “I thought she did a great job, especially rebounding for us. Kind of her specialty, she’s got the athleticism and nose for the ball, especially on the defensive end.”
Nebraska All-American senior forward Jordan Hooper had a game-high 21 points and eight rebounds. Pickrel’s defense was a major factor in the win, as Hooper needed 22 shots to reach her point total. Junior forward Emily Cady added 16 points and 12 rebounds.
“(Pickrel) was a good matchup for Hooper because she’s got some size, she’s got a couple inches on her,” Merchant said. “She’s quick, she’s athletic, she can defend on the block … so we knew she’d have to play a lot of minutes and probably guard (Hooper) the whole time.
“And that’s just good a defense as I’ve seen Annalise play.”
The Spartans improve to 2-0 in Big Ten play, and have won both games by double-digits. Winners of five of the last six, the fortunes are shifting for a team that suffered in the standings earlier in the year after injuries shortened the rotation.
“We’re just really working as a team right now,” senior guard Klarissa Bell said. “Everyone is passing the ball, everyone is shooting the ball and I think that defensively, we’re really clicking as a team. And that’s huge for us right now”
MSU had no trouble finding the bottom of the bucket early on, building an 18-9 lead midway through the first half. Junior forward Becca Mills had her way in the post, scoring on a variety of moves and hitting her first four shots. She finished with 10 points on 5-10 shooting.
A late 8-0 run in the first gave the Spartans a 37-24 lead entering halftime. Powers hit a buzzer-beater in dramatic fashion, grabbing an offensive rebound after a miss by freshman guard Tori Jankoska and flicking it up as she rotated, falling down, as the first half came to a close.
“I guess you could call it luck, but I was really focused when I actually grabbed the rebound,” Powers said of the circus shot.
MSU came out the gates of the second half running, forcing a Nebraska 30 second timeout after a quick 8-0 run. Theriot started the half with a 3, but a Pickrel free throw and fastbreak score by Bell put the lead back at 13.
Mills hit a turnaround jump shot on the next possession, and Powers nailed a 3 to push the lead to 18, 45-27, with over 17 minutes left.
Powers was called for a questionable turnover after Cady drew a charge, but a 3-point play on the ensuring possession stretched the lead to 21.
Theriot’s jumper in the paint snapped MSU’s 11-0 run, but did nothing to halt the momentum. Pickrel nailed back-to-back 3’s to extend the lead to 24, 56-32, before the second media timeout.
Nebraska got within 13 with under two minutes left after Nebraska sophomore guard Sadie Murren split at the line, but Jankoska hit a dagger 3 on the other end to seal a game where the outcome was never truly in question.
MSU returns to action Sunday, where they will take on in-state rival Michigan in Ann Arbor. It is the only matchup of the season between the two teams
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