No. 16 Huskers Hit Big Ten Rod for First Time at Michigan State
The first Big Ten Conference game ever played in Nebraska’s beautiful new home at Pinnacle Bank Arena will be remembered as one of the most exciting games of the season. Trailing by as many as seven points to Northwestern in the first half, the Huskers rallied and held off the young Wildcats 66-65.
Junior Hailie Sample’s steal in the final minute was huge as neither team was able to score in the final 1:31. Sophomore point guard Rachel Theriot had a game-high 19 points and added eight assists while playing the full 40 minutes. Theriot had a jaw-dropping, buzzer-beating one-handed three-point prayer with 8:28 left in the game to give the Huskers a three-point lead.
Junior guard Tear’a Laudermill added 14 points and handed out a career-high five assists. Nebraska heads away from Lincoln for a two-game road swing, facing Michigan State Thursday night and Illinois Sunday afternoon. Over the last six seasons, Nebraska (12-4) has the best road record in Big Ten games of all league teams (75%).
It will be a matchup of the teams picked in the preseason to finish first (Nebraska) and third in the Big Ten when the Huskers face Michigan State Thursday at 6 p.m. (central). The Spartans have advanced to the NCAA Tournament 10 times in the last 11 years, have 10 straight 20-win seasons and have won at least 10 Big Ten Conference games each of the last 10 seasons.
MSU finished 25-9 overall last year and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State has struggled to overcome numerous injuries the past two seasons. They come into Thursday night’s game off an impressive league-opening road win at Minnesota Saturday, 81-56.
The Spartans outrebounded the Gophers by 16 boards and held All-American Rachel Banham to just 13 points. MSU’s defense was dominant, especially in the first half, holding Banham and 6-5 Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B to a combined 2-of-14 shooting. The Gophers did not hit a basket in the final 5:42 of the half and got outscored by 16 points in the paint and 14-0 on fastbreak points for the entire game.
Michigan State and Nebraska have only met twice previously, with the series tied 1-1. The Spartans won the first-ever meeting two seasons ago in East Lansing 73-53, making 9-of-18 three pointers and holding the Huskers to 17-of-54 shooting. Nebraska won last season’s only meeting, 59-54 in Lincoln. Coming into last year’s meeting, MSU was allowing opponents to score only 47 points per game. The Huskers scored 12 points over the Spartans’ defense average.
Jordan Hooper erupted for 25 points and three three-pointers, becoming the first opponent leading scorer to get their season average in a game against MSU. Michigan State also came into last year’s game averaging a plus-11.2 rebound margin over its opponent, but Nebraska was able to edge MSU on the glass 39-38 and outscore them in points in the paint 34-18. Rebounding should also be a big key in Thursday night’s game as both teams own dominant rebounding margins over their opponents (MSU +7.8; Nebraska +8.5).
Spartan point guard Kiana Johnson, a 5-7 junior, ranks third in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.27) and averages 8.9 points per game. Heading into last season’s game at Nebraska, she was a chilly 2-of-23 from beyond the arc, but knocked down a career-high four three-pointers en route a career-high 22 points against the Huskers.
Aerial Powers, a 6-0 redshirt freshman, missed all of the 2012-13 season with a torn Achilles tendon. She has started all 14 games this year and leads the team in scoring (13.4 ppg) and rebounds (7.8 rpg).
Senior Klarissa Bell was named pre-season All Big Ten by the league’s coaches. The 5-11 guard had a game-high 19 points and three three-pointers against Nebraska in the 2012 game in East Lansing. She averages 8.8 points per game this year.
Senior Annalise Pickrel ranks in the top 20 of nine different Big Ten statistical categories. The 6-3 forward ranks second on the team in scoring (13.3 ppg).
MSU has been buoyed by the return from injuries of two imposing inside players. Jasmine Hines, a 6-3 junior, was the 2011 Michigan High School Player of the Year. She has played in the last seven games after recovering from a concussion.
Redshirt junior Madison Williams, a 6-7 center and the 2010 Michigan High School Player of the Year, has also appeared in the last seven games. Williams missed the entire 2010-11 season after tearing the ACL in her right knee. She missed all but three games in the 2011-12 season after tearing the ACL in her left knee, then missed the entire 2012-13 season after suffering another ACL tear in the left knee.
Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant picked up her 350th career victory Saturday afternoon at Minnesota. She spent her first three years at Division II Saginaw Valley State before a nine-year run at Eastern Michigan. The seventh-year Spartan mentor will be seeking her 150th coaching victory at MSU against Nebraska Thursday.
The Huskers wrap-up the two-game road trip Sunday with a 1 p.m. (central) meeting against Illinois in Champaign. The Illini are 7-7 overall and started Big Ten play with a 76-64 overtime loss at home to Wisconsin. Due to their scheduled Monday night road game at Northwestern being postponed due to harsh winter weather, Illinois will open conference play with a rare three-game homestand. The Illini host Penn State Thursday night.
After a 2013 season that saw the team earn a 19-14 record and a berth in the WNIT, the Illinois women’s basketball team has a lot of new faces this season.
The Illini return six players from last year’s squad, four of whom saw significant playing time, but the biggest losses are the production left behind with the graduation of Karisma Penn and Adrienne GodBold. Penn nearly averaged a double-double last season with 19.2 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per contest to go along with a team-high 50.6 percent shooting from the field. GodBold, who was second in scoring, was the team’s shutdown defender, earning the Big Ten Defensive Player-of-the-Year Award.
Like last season, Illinois and their ‘Buzz Defense’ are leading the league in steals (11.9 per game). However, the team ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring margin, field goal percentage and rebounding margin.
Senior Amber Moore returns to lead the Illini in several statistical categories. Last year, the 5-11 sharp-shooting guard set a program record for single-season three-pointers (86) and stepped up her production in the postseason, averaging 16.8 points in the team’s four WNIT games. She leads this season’s team in scoring (17.9 ppg), rebounds (6.3 rpg), three-pointers (48) and is tied for the team lead in steals. Moore ranks sixth nationally in three-pointers per game (3.4).
Ivory Crawford, a 5-10 junior guard, started all 33 games last season and is second on the team in scoring this year (13.9 ppg). Freshman center Jacqui Grant has added size at 6-3 to a guard/wing dominated Illini roster. Grant has started all 14 games this year and leads the team in blocked shots. She adds 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
Redshirt sophomore Sarah Hartwell sat out the 2012-13 season after she transferred from Georgia Tech. The 5-10 guard was slowed the first two weeks of fall camp with a hamstring injury, but Hartwell has started all 14 games and leads the team in assists and adds 9.8 points per game.
Alexis Smith rounds out Illinois’ probable starting lineup. The 5-9 junior guard missed the first five games of the season with a foot injury, but has started each of the last eight games. Smith started all 33 games at point guard last year, and her 168 assists ranked third in a season in school history. She averages 8.9 points per game this season.
Second-year Illini Head Coach Matt Bollant led Illinois to its first postseason berth in three years in 2012-13 and a winning Big Ten record for the first time in 10 years last season. The Illini broke the league record for steals, steals per game and turnovers forced in a conference season, and shattered school records for steals, turnovers forced and three-pointers made in a season.
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Illinois 4-3, including a 67-47 victory at Assembly Hall (now State Farm Center) in 2012 in Nebraska’s last trip to Champaign and their first trip to Illinois in 20 years. However, the Illini held Nebraska to its lowest offensive output of the season in the last meeting between the two teams, a 62-52 Illini win in Lincoln last season. NU committed a season-high 26 turnovers and were outrebounded 45-36 by the Illini. The game against Nebraska is being promoted as Illinois’ ‘Pack The House’ game.
I cordially invite you to join Jeff Griesch and me for Nebraska women’s basketball on the Husker Sports Network. Our radio broadcast Thursday evening begins with the pre-game show at 5:45 p.m. (central) with the tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m. on the Husker Sports Network including KBBK (B107.3) in Lincoln, KFFF 93.3 in Omaha, KCOW 1400 in Alliance, KNEB 94.1 in Scottsbluff, KBRB 1400 in Ainsworth, KHAQ 98.5 in North Platte, and many others. All Husker women’s basketball broadcasts are also available for free worldwide on the internet at www.huskers.com. I hope you can join us.
There are a number of ways to get enhanced information about our broadcast and Husker Women’s Basketball via social media. You can learn more about the team on the Nebraska Women’s Basketball Facebook page or follow the team on their official Twitter page @huskerswbb. I also invite you to friend me on Facebook (Matt Coatney) or follow me on Twitter @coatman1.
Go Big Red!