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Preview: MSU women's hoops to begin Big Ten campaign at Minnesota

December 9, 2020

After sweeping the Detroit Mercy Titans (0-3) 82-45 at the Breslin Center last week, the Michigan State women's basketball team (2-0) is preparing to begin Big Ten play at Minnesota (1-1) on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 9 p.m.

The Spartans have officially picked up transfer Janai Crooms, who gained immediate eligibility to play as a redshirt junior guard for the 2020-21 season.

Crooms has come to MSU after two successful seasons at Ohio State University. The 5-foot-10 guard was a No. 62 recruit out of high school in 2018, according to ESPNW HoopGurlz.

She was also a four-star recruit ranked No. 36 in the 2018 class by Prospect Nation and was named to the American Family Insurance All-USA Rhode Island Girls Basketball Team Player as a senior. She was also a four-time New England All-Star.

During her senior year she averaged 12.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game.

"... She's a veteran guard, somebody that really understands this league and she's talented, she can set people up," head coach Suzy Merchant said in a pre-game briefing Monday. "I don't think she's exactly where she needs to be 100% because she did have foot surgery back in Oct., so she's coming off of that, but it's looking really good and we're really excited just to have her and the experience, the depth, the enthusiasm, the passion."

Merchant called Crooms a kid that loves to play basketball.

"... I've known Janai since she's been 15-years-old, so to have that kid in a uniform here was great, but to now officially get to put her on the court is a big deal," Merchant said.

There is still no word on the other transfers.

A look into the opponent

This will be the first time that the ladies travel this season, after hosting two of their scheduled five non-conference games at the Breslin Center already.

"... I think there's a lot of really good safeguards in place and obviously with the charter that helps a little bit to kind of isolate our own group, but ... we are going to be walking through airports and there's always that possibility, staying in a hotel as well," Merchant said.

However, she has faith in her girls after living with this cautious expectation every day for the last nine months. They remain optimistic and, "whatever happens now, happens," Merchant said.

Minnesota played its second and final non-conference game of the regular season Sunday, getting knocked out by Drake (2-2) in a 99-66 loss at Williams Arena.

The spotlight is on Golden Gopher senior Gadiva Hubbard, who only needed 80 games to become the 26th Gopher in Minnesota's school history to reach 1,000 career points.

In the game against Drake, she had racked up 17 points just by herself, thanks in part going to four three-pointers.

Sophomore Kadi Sissoko also reached double figures, her first career double-double, posting 12 points and nine rebounds, along with a pair of blocks and two assists.

Freshman Caroline Strande made her Gopher debut with nine points, four rebounds and four steals against Drake.

Sophomore Jasmine Powell led the Gophers against Drake with 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Coming off of a 21-point performance in their season opener against Eastern Illinois (1-1), she's the first Gopher to score 20 points in each of the first two games of a season since Carlie Wagner did during the 2016-17 campaign.

Last time on MSU hoops

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"... We're just approaching (this game) the way we would every opponent this year," Merchant said.

However, the difficult thing is that you never know who's going to show up due to things like injury or sickness. On game night, Merchant said the thought of, 'is there someone about to come out here that I wasn't expecting to be ready?' is always at the back of her mind.

The green and white spotlight is on junior forward Tory Ozment, who got the ball rolling on both ends of the floor in the game against Detroit Mercy and finished the night with 11 points.

Ozment looks to be the glue that holds her team together as they navigate these unprecedented times together.

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