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Spartan women's basketball looking for victory against Illinois after first game loss

February 4, 2014
	<p>Freshman guard Tori Jankoska, left, and junior guard Kiana Johnson listen to head coach Suzy Merchant on Feb. 2, 2014, Breslin Center during the game against Purdue. The Spartans defeated the Boilermakers, 89-73. Julia Nagy/The State News</p>

Freshman guard Tori Jankoska, left, and junior guard Kiana Johnson listen to head coach Suzy Merchant on Feb. 2, 2014, Breslin Center during the game against Purdue. The Spartans defeated the Boilermakers, 89-73. Julia Nagy/The State News

Photo by Julia Nagy | The State News

Illinois came to Breslin Center two weeks ago and stole a game from the women’s basketball team. On Wednesday, the Spartans will look to return the favor.

No. 24 MSU, which has won three consecutive games since losing to Illinois on Jan. 23, will take on the Fighting Illini at 8 p.m. in Champaign, Ill. MSU is 4-0 on the road in Big Ten play this season.

The Spartans were experiencing turmoil the last time they played Illinois, which ended up being their second-straight home loss. They scored 51 points, a season-low, and couldn’t capitalize on a 28-25 halftime lead en route to losing, 61-51.

Head coach Suzy Merchant, who criticized her team’s effort after the game, called the loss one of the most frustrating of her career.

The Spartans seemed to have turned the page since that loss, defeating Ohio State, Wisconsin and then-No. 19 Purdue at home to improve to 7-2 in the conference standings, good for second place.

Sunday’s win versus the Boilermakers was especially encouraging, as MSU upset the conference foe in a rout, 89-73. Junior center Jasmine Hines, who had a bigger role in the offense as junior forward Becca Mills was in foul trouble, scored 16 points, hauled in six rebounds and was unstoppable in the paint.

With Hines working Purdue inside, the Spartans did not have to rely on 3-point shooting, which has been an asset this season but hasn’t been a consistent source of offense. MSU shot 12 3-pointers all night, three in the second half, and scored 50 points in the paint.

Mills had a similar game against Illinois two weeks ago, scoring 17 points and blocking two shots in 29 minutes. But she fouled out with less than two minutes to play. The Spartans attempted 20 3-pointers against Illinois and made just three.

MSU will need strong performances from both players if it wants to change the mistakes made during the first matchup. If the 3-pointers are falling, MSU should be in good shape. If not, Hines and Mills need to establish themselves in the paint to prevent the offense from stagnating.

Junior guard Kiana Johnson, who struggled during the two-game skid, missed the game against Ohio State for personal matters and has come off the bench in the two games since. Johnson was effective against Wisconsin, scoring 11 points, dishing out four assists and looking comfortable as she paced the offense.

It remains to be seen if freshman guard Tori Jankoska will continue to start in place of Johnson. Jankoska was very good in the Purdue victory, scoring 15 points, grabbing six rebounds, dishing six assists and adding three steals in 34 minutes of action.

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