When Michigan State and Penn State women's basketball met on Jan. 27 at Bryce Jordan Center, the Spartans secured an elusive road win over the Nittany Lions, 79-58. That victory kickstarted the adrenaline needed to get them where they are now – on the edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
As of Friday, following their short-handed escape from Wisconsin with another tally in the win column, MSU has moved into ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme's First Four Out prediction, alongside Washington State, Texas A&M and Rhode Island.
There's only three games left in the regular season, one on the road and two at home, and the Spartans truthfully have a lot to still prove. If they can win at least two of the upcoming matches, though all three would be ideal, against Penn State and either No. 9 Michigan (20-4, 11-3) again or No. 18 Ohio State (20-5, 12-4), they will most likely see their name drawn on Selection Sunday.
However, MSU is one of those teams that has double digit at home wins and under five road wins. At home, the green and white are 10-3. When visiting, they're 4-6. Their dynamic shifts dramatically depending on where they play. The home advantage is something they heavily depend on, especially with the amount of loss they've encountered this season.
Penn State leads the series with MSU, 30-22, though the tides are changing. MSU has won eight of the last 11 outings against the blue and white.
Penn State will be coming into the Breslin tonight off of a freshly snapped, eight game loss streak. They defeated Nebraska 83-76 after outscoring the Cornhuskers 31-15 in the fourth quarter alone. Penn State's only other conference victories are over Rutgers, Illinois and Northwestern – all teams MSU has also beaten.
Junior guard Makenna Marisa now ranks second in the Big Ten and eighth in the nation in scoring, averaging 22.4 points per game. She's third among Power Five conference players and averages 21.5 points per game against ranked opponents this season. Last time against the Spartans, Marisa scored 19 points, one of her rare under-20 point games.
Overall, the Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in steals per game with 10 and total steals with 251. They are also second in the league in blocks, which is led by sophomore forward Ali Brigham who is fourth in the league and averages 1.1 per game. Last time against the Spartans, she collected two blocks on top of her 11 points.
Senior guard Nia Clouden is one of the few things that remain consistent in the women's basketball program, having started in all 112 games of her Spartan career.
Clouden is fourth in the Big Ten, 15th in the nation, in scoring with 20.5 points per game, just behind Marisa. She's keen at getting to the line and also ranks fourth in the nation in free throws made with 140, 20th in the NCAA, with a free-throw percentage of 88.1%.
Both teams have solid freshman as well. We all know about forward Matilda Ekh and guard DeeDee Hagemann.
While Hagemann didn't play last Wednesday due to concussion protocol, Ekh managed to rack up 25 points, putting her rookie scoring performance at 12th overall MSU history.
Ekh is also shooting 43.6% from beyond the arc, maintaining the No. 2 spot on the Spartans' freshman three-point percentage list.
After the Indiana game on Feb. 12, Hagemann has collected 126 assists in her first season. She became the eighth in MSU history to break 100 against Maryland on Feb. 3 and now sits sixth amongst the list, edging closer and closer to the top with an average of 5.7 per game.
And we can't forget freshman forward Isaline Alexander. The Canadian came up big in the Spartans' back-to-back AP top-five opponents earlier this month and showed out at Wisconsin with six points off the bench. She had a slow start after 15 months off, but is adjusting quickly with given opportunities.
On the other end, PSU's redshirt freshman guard Leilani Kapinus averages 9.6 points per game, having scored 10 last time against the Spartans to back up Marisa's charge. She also brought in seven rebounds and three assists, as well as a steal and a block each.
With Hagemann out last week, junior center Taiyier Parks had the opportunity to step up for her second start this season at Wisconsin. Both of her starts have earned the Spartans a win. The last time she was apart of the starting five was against Nebraska in a win over a then undefeated Cornhusker team on Dec. 30 to wrap 2021.It's still unknown if Hagemann will be cleared to play tonight.
The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network with tip-off set for 6 p.m.
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