Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Standout Senior Spartans

Bell, Pickrel continuing to lead way in final year for Spartan basketball

February 18, 2014
	<p>Senior forward Annalise Pickrel looks at head coach Suzy Merchant&#8217;s whiteboard during a time out Feb. 15, 2014, during the game against Ohio State at Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Buckeyes, 70-49. Julia Nagy/The State News</p>

Senior forward Annalise Pickrel looks at head coach Suzy Merchant’s whiteboard during a time out Feb. 15, 2014, during the game against Ohio State at Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Buckeyes, 70-49. Julia Nagy/The State News

Photo by Julia Nagy | The State News

On a relatively young women’s basketball team, Klarissa Bell and Annalise Pickrel have a bigger responsibility than the other players. They are the co-captains for the squad. They also happen to be the only seniors on the team.

Bell and Pickrel, who transitioned from bench players during their freshman and sophomore years to starters last season, have seen a different side of the game as senior captains. The Spartans have had more than a few rough patches this year as far as injuries, and in some cases, getting players to perform up to their potential.

Head coach Suzy Merchant, however, has praised her seniors for the way they have handled the season.

Despite injury struggles earlier in the year and the indefinite suspension of junior guard Kiana Johnson, who now has missed three consecutive games, the No. 23 Spartans are tied with No. 17 Nebraska for second in the Big Ten with a 9-3 conference record. With only four games remaining, the race is heating up.

“I’m really excited about it,” Bell said. “It means a lot to me and I’m really excited to win out the rest of these games and really, really hope that we are up there at the top to go for the Big Ten championship.”

A huge reason is the way Pickrel and Bell have adjusted their games in their final year. In Bell’s case, it’s been taking a step back on offense.

Bell, who led the team in scoring last season, has essentially swapped point total for efficiency. She is shooting career-highs from both the free throw line (78.3 percent) and from behind the arc (32.3 percent), with a tidy 44.1 overall field goal percentage. She also has put a greater focus on distributing the ball, averaging a career-high 3.4 assists per game.

Bell also has handled point guard responsibilities for the Spartans since Johnson’s suspension.

Perhaps Bell’s most underrated impact has been on the defensive side of the ball. She’s locked down many of the Big Ten’s most prolific scorers, too.

“I think she understands the importance of defending people and being that lockdown defender for us,” Merchant said. “I really think KB (has) really always been focused on what she needs to do for the team.”

While Bell has focused her game on a few key areas, Pickrel has expanded her game. More of a pure scorer in previous years, Pickrel has improved as a rebounder, shot-blocker and passer, all while becoming a more efficient shooter.

The senior forward is averaging career highs in several categories including points per game (12.7), rebounds (7.2), assists (2.6), blocks (1.0), field goal percentage (46.4) and 3-point percentage (39).

Pickrel had 17 points, 11 rebounds and six assists against Ohio State on Saturday despite shooting 1-of-7 from behind the arc.

“I think practice-wise and just for sort of the morale of our team, they do better when Klarissa and myself are (bringing) energy,” Pickrel said after the Ohio State game. “I needed to bring that back for them.”

The senior captains understand that no matter how well their younger teammates perform, the team’s future success likely hangs on their shoulders the rest of the way.

“As I always say, as your seniors go, so goes your team,” Merchant said.

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