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Spartan women's basketball still feels in control after Nebraska road loss

February 12, 2014

The No. 25 women’s basketball team has sailed through great stretches of play this season. But as a result of numerous factors, the team has not been immune to the occasional rough patch.

Head coach Suzy Merchant addressed the inconsistency that has plagued the team at her weekly press conference on Tuesday. A four-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt on Saturday when the Spartans fell to No. 21 Nebraska on the road, 76-56.

Merchant has mentioned the team’s youth in the past as a reason for inconsistency. With two freshmen in the starting lineup, Merchant said there have been hiccups as far as players adjusting and learning roles.

Leadership also has been a concern. First-time team captains and seniors Klarissa Bell and Annalise Pickrel have both raised their level of play this year. But sometimes, a more vocal role has been needed depending on the situation, and Merchant said that vocal presence has lacked at times.

“The role she’s trying to get better at is having a more commanding, vocal presence with the team, which we really didn’t do a good job of in (that) 10, 12 minute period against Nebraska which we really needed … and it just didn’t happen,” Merchant said of Bell, who has taken on more of the ball-handling duties with junior guard Kiana Johnson out indefinitely with suspension.

Losses do not completely fall on Bell and Pickrel, however. With young players taking on big roles, inconsistency is to be expected. At practice last Friday, Merchant said she has seen strides in the right direction as far as players buying into the system.

Saturday wasn’t necessarily a positive step in that direction, as the Spartans conceded a 34-6 run to the Huskers that authoritatively put the game out of reach.

Five games remain before the Big Ten Tournament begins. MSU is within striking distance of first place in the conference, sitting one game behind No. 11 Penn State.

With only a couple weeks left, the Spartans quickly need to figure out the answer to their woes.

“We just had a really awful 10-12 minutes,” Merchant said, referring to the 34-6 Nebraska run on Saturday. “And that’s where that commanding presence, that maturity a little bit, you gotta get inside and then to go out there and shoot another outside shot, it was driving me crazy. Some of it is listening and comprehending.”

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