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Women's basketball team defeats Minnesota, looks toward conference race

February 24, 2014
	<p>Redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers goes up to the basket as Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B. guards Feb. 24, 2014, at Breslin Center. The Spartans lead at half 44-33. Julia Nagy/The State News</p>

Redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers goes up to the basket as Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B. guards Feb. 24, 2014, at Breslin Center. The Spartans lead at half 44-33. Julia Nagy/The State News

Photo by Julia Nagy | The State News

The women’s basketball team enjoyed two victories Monday night — one at Breslin Center, and another 725 miles away.

In a chippy game with several questionable foul calls, the No. 21 Spartans (19-8 overall, 11-3 Big Ten) defeated Minnesota at home 75-61. Tied for second place with No. 16 Nebraska in the Big Ten standings, MSU needed the Huskers to defeat first place No. 8 Penn State to remain in the thick of the conference race.

Nebraska did just that, beating Penn State 80-67 at home. With the wins, MSU and Nebraska remain a half game behind Penn State for first place. The Spartans and Huskers each have two games remaining, with Penn State only having one to play.

“Just having played Nebraska at home, I kinda knew Penn State would have their hands full,” head coach Suzy Merchant said after the game. “I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I thought Nebraska would have a strong chance to win that game. They are really, really tough at home.”

Jankoska has a team-high 21 points and hit four 3-pointers. Junior forward Becca Mils had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and senior guard Klarissa Bell had nine points, 10 assists and three blocks.

Bell showed continued growth at the point guard position with junior guard Kiana Johnson suspended indefinitely.

“If you’re dishing them out to your teammates and they’re making them, that is awesome,” Bell said. “Gotta give props to your teammates.”

Minnesota junior guard Rachel Banham led all scorers with 31 points but needed 30 shots. Redshirt freshman center Amanda Zahui B., one of the top freshman in the conference, was held scoreless in the first half and finished with nine points and 10 rebounds.

It was a back and forth affair early, but redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers sunk a spot-up 3-pointer to give the Spartans an 11-7 lead. Jankoska’s 3-pointer minutes later made it a 16-7 lead.

Redshirt freshman guard Branndais Agee checked in with under 12 minutes left and scored near the basket to increase the lead to 20-11. Bell found junior center Jasmine Hines on the next play, who spun to the rim and put the lead into double figures.

Jankoska rattled in another 3-pointer to stretch the lead to 14, 25-11.

Redshirt junior center Madison Williams delivered a highlight play not long after checking in, stuffing Minnesota senior forward Micaella Riche’ under the rim. Noga kept the possession alive by making a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but Jankoska hit her third 3-pointer on the next offensive trip.

The Spartans continued to roll in the second half. Hines got rolling on both ends of the court, producing easy buckets and continuing the defensive job on Zahui B.

Powers fouled out with under 10 minutes remaining after a questionable call that elicited boos from the crowd. She argued the call and was hit with a quick technical, sending her to the locker room early.

“Are you trying to get me fined?,” Merchant said when asked about the foul calls. “There will be some film study on this one for sure. I’ve struggled not only from game to game, but from possession to possession. I don’t know what is or isn’t a foul sometimes, and I think they’re trying to figure it out too.”

Minnesota cut the lead to 11, 62-51, after a 7-0 run that happened during Powers technical foul.

Jankoska made a layup with 6:01 on the clock to snap the run, but Zahui B. scored on the next possession. Noga’s jumper with 3:54 trimmed the lead to nine.

Bell hit a clutch 3-pointer with 3:28 on the clock to put the lead back at double digits 67-55. Mills then made a layup with 2:31 to play, giving MSU a 14-point lead and sealing the win.

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