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Tuesday, April 23, 2013


[Part One of a Three-Part Series]

With all of the attention grabbed by the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament and the local focus on a half-dozen or more MSU and UM players who were rumored or expected to jump to the NBA, most sports fans lost track of the "other great team" that plays in the Breslin Student Events Center.

The Michigan State Women's Basketball team quietly put together another great season, compiling 20 wins for the 10th year in a row, and making the Big Dance for the fifth consecutive season. Suzy Merchant had arguably her best year as Head Coach, overcoming incredible adversity brought on by multiple injuries at the end of 2012, several of which were season-enders.

Two tough breaks came before the season started, the first on October 29, when freshman guard Aerial Powers tore her achilles-tendon and was immediately declared gone for the season. Powers is six-feet-even, which is very good-sized for a perimeter player in the women's game. She was all-state three times at Detroit Country Day, twice was named Class B Player of the Year, and was ranked in the Top 100 by several recruiting services, a level that loosely translates to "four-star" status in the men's game.

Only two days later, Madison Williams suffered her third ACL tear in as many years, sidelining her for the season that had yet to begin. Williams was a "McDonald's All-American" coming to MSU, the "Miss Basketball" for Michigan in 2010, and lost only four times in high school while leading her team to a pair of state titles. Her accolades as a recruit made her a target for every top program in America, but she chose Merchant and MSU to become the tallest player in the B1G at 6'7".

Highly-ranked freshman guard Brandais Agee was also unable to play due to a stress-fracture during preseason practice, after finishing second as 2012 "Miss Basketball" and making "Dream Team" status by both Detroit newspapers. Agee was held out the first four games of the year.

The season began with two players serving a self-imposed suspension for a summertime rules mishap, point-guard Kiana Johnson and small forward Akyah Taylor. Johnson was a Top 100 recruit coming to the Spartans, and led MSU in assists as a freshman, while Taylor was an Indiana first-team all-state selection as a senior. These two were unavailable for the first nine games of the season.

Michigan State started 8-1 with a shoestring lineup, riding the performances of juniors Klarissa Bell and Annalise Pickrel, and powered inside by sophomores Becca Mills and Jasmine Hines. Before Johnson and Taylor could return to action, Agee tore an ACL and was gone for the season.

That's three highly-ranked players who suffered season-ending injuries while two others missed most of the non-conference schedule due to suspension. But the Spartans finished in Second Place in the conference, went 25-9, and made it to the round of 32 in the Big Dance before falling to a team playing on their home court. Quite a season indeed.

Looking ahead, the Spartans hope to add all three injured players back to the active lineup next year, along with Camille Glymph, a 5'10" guard who transferred from Auburn last summer. They also welcome the 2013 "Miss Basketball" winner, Tori Jankoska, a shooting guard who averaged more than 30 points per game during her senior year at Freeland High School. MSU loses only two veterans from last year's team.

The latest news comes from the coaching staff, where Merchant has promoted Tempie Brown to Associate Head Coach, adding stability to program.

To close Part One of our three-part series, here are a few facts to highlight the success of our MSU Women's Basketball program:

  • MSU is one of 19 schools in the country who have qualified for the last five NCAA Tournaments.
  • Over the last eight years, Michigan State has posted a 12-7 record in the NCAA Tournament. Its 12 wins are the 12th most in the nation and tied with Purdue for the most among Big Ten schools.
  • The Spartans won 10 conference games this past season, extending their streak to 11 consecutive years with double-digit Big Ten wins, the longest active streak in the Big Ten.
  • During Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State has a 69-33 Big Ten record. The win total is second in the conference over that span.

Part Two of our series will take a quick look at the University of Michigan Women's Basketball program. You don't want to miss that! (Michigan State has won 21 of its last 23 games against Michigan and is 62-16 all-time against the Wolverines.)

Part 2
Part 3

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