Winners of three straight, it appears the women’s basketball team (9-5 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) could finally be turning the corner. Thursday, the Spartans play their first Big Ten home game of the season as they host No. 16 Nebraska at 7 p.m.
t could be a statement game for a Spartan team that has yet to make its mark against a ranked opponent.
Nebraska, who was the preseason pick by media and coaches to take home the Big Ten championship, will be a challenge for MSU. Led by All-American senior forward Jordan Hooper, who is averaging 20.2 points and 10.8 rebounds, Nebraska is a versatile offensive squad.
After practice on Wednesday, head coach Suzy Merchant described Nebraska as a team of guards, referencing the number of ways the Huskers can punish teams on offense.
“They can shoot it, drive it, pass it, post up,” Merchant said. “Makes it difficult, you know. You’re playing two fives on the floor against Minnesota, to now you turn around and play basically five guards and very talented kids. As well as their ability, they’re big enough, they’ll post you. So it’s gonna be a challenge for us.”
The Huskers also are a formidable defensive team that holds opposing teams to .366 field goal shooting. After struggling on that end of the floor, it appears MSU is making strides defensively. The Spartans contained an accurate-shooting Minnesota team last Saturday on the road, as the Gophers managed just 56 points while shooting 25 percent from behind the arc.
“For us, I thought our defense spoke at Minnesota, and then we’re blessed to have our offense,” Merchant said. “I thought the Minnesota game, and the Colgate and Georgetown (games), those last few games we’ve been putting it together on both ends. Not great the whole time, but we’ve had more good than bad. The last six games or so, our defense is a lot better.”
Senior guard Klarissa Bell, who has suffered from shin splints since the preseason, appeared to regain her groove against the Gophers. She nailed all four of her shots, scoring 11 points to go with six rebounds and five assists.
Most notably, Bell held one of the Big Ten’s most productive scorers in Rachel Banham to 13 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Bell credits the turnaround to wearing compression pads on her shins, which she started last Wednesday and said have helped to improve her lateral movement.
Tonight, she will be tasked — along with senior forward Annalise Pickrel — with limiting Hooper, who is 53 points and 49 rebounds from hitting the 2,000-point and 1,000-rebound career milestones.
“Hooper is a great player,” Bell said. “Her shot from the three is a really quick release and she gets it up with a hand in her face. Very smooth, the up-and-unders and everything that she does is really smooth. I’m real impressed with that.”
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