Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Column: Women's basketball team's progress halted with loss

February 10, 2014

Two steps forward, one step back was the mantra of the No. 25 women’s basketball team after Saturday’s 76-56 loss to No. 21 Nebraska on the road.

Before the loss, the previous four games indicated progress. The line-up of powerhouse juniors forward Becca Mills, center Jasmine Hines and center Madison Williams took turns manning the middle and taking pressure off of the perimeter scorers.

Freshman guard Tori Jankoska, starting in place of junior guard Kiana Johnson, was playing her best basketball of the season.

But on Saturday, the team couldn’t capitalize on the things that led to the four-game winning streak. Mills had trouble establishing herself in the post. Hines had a bit more success, going 3-for-4 from the field in 16 minutes, but it wasn’t enough.

Most damning was the lack of ball movement. Head coach Suzy Merchant has criticized the team’s lack of ball movement in previous losses and close wins, and that was a major factor in the loss. Players settled for jumpers on more than several plays during the Huskers’ 34-6 first-half run that sealed the win early.

The stagnant ball movement, along with 16 turnovers opposite of eight assists, spelled MSU’s doom.

It’s possible it simply was an off-shooting night for the Spartans, who were 4-of-17 from behind the arc and shot 9-of-29 in the first half.

The Huskers also were especially polished at home, surprising MSU with backdoor screens on offense and making the most of second-chance and transition opportunities.

The Spartans are a jump-shooting team, and it’s not uncommon for shooters to go cold. But minus Johnson’s ability to create plays and without Mills and Hines scoring easy buckets inside, MSU could never get into a groove on offense on Saturday.

On Friday, Merchant said Mills and Hines are X-factors for the team moving forward. Saturday was an example of why they are so pivotal to the team — they provide balance to a 3-point-heavy attack.

“I think both Becca and (Jasmine), when they’re aggressive and playing well and attacking, I think it makes a difference for us,” Merchant said at Friday’s practice. “Both of them can get into foul trouble and when they don’t, it really helps our team. When they do, it hurts our team.”

Hines and Mills both played with three fouls, so foul trouble wasn’t the biggest issue. But with Johnson suspended indefinitely, post play will continue to be a point of emphasis for the Spartans moving forward.

Omari Sankofa II is the State News women’s basketball reporter. Reach him at osankofa@statenews.com.

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