Nebraska Cornhuskers (18-7, 9-3 Big Ten) at Michigan State Spartans (15-11, 5-8 Big Ten) Wednesday, Feb. 14, 6 p.m. (CT)
Breslin Center (East Lansing, Michigan)
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The Huskers will shoot for their 10th Big Ten Conference victory of the season, while taking aim at their 10th consecutive road win of the year. Redshirt senior Janay Morton is averaging 17.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 4.2 steals per 40 minutes in Big Ten play. The former All-MAC guard at Eastern Michigan is averaging 15.6 minutes the last five games.
Michigan State is a very balanced team in terms of scoring. Much like Nebraska, they also have a lot of length as every healthy bench player is 6’0” or better. If you look at the roster, you’ll see that Michigan State has no healthy guards on the bench, only forwards and a center. The Spartans aren’t a good 3-point shooting team and Nebraska is very good at defending the three. Sparty is going to want to get their points in the paint as much as possible.
I feel like a broken record as I say this almost every game, but keeping Kate Cain out of foul trouble will be important. Even if she can stay clear of whistles, one or more of Nebraska’s reserve posts (Washington, Mitchell, Blackburn) will need to have a very good night to keep Cain and Simon fresh. Sparty is pretty good at getting offensive rebounds and forcing turnovers and the Huskers will have to make a concerted effort to clean the glass and take care of the ball.
When looking at the stats, this game looks like it could be close and hard fought. If it comes down to a game of free throws, advantage MSU. If the Huskers can go blow-for-blow with Sparty in the paint and backcourt play decides the game, advantage Nebraska. I think Nebraska’s guards, especially Taylor Kissinger, have the potential for a big night.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (18-7, 9-3 Big Ten)
24 - Maddie Simon - 6-2 - Jr. - F - 10.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg
31 - Kate Cain - 6-5 - Fr. - C - 10.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg
3 - Hannah Whitish - 5-9 - So. - G - 12.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg
5 - Nicea Eliely - 6-1 - So. - G - 8.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg
34 - Jasmine Cincore - 5-10 - Sr. - F - 6.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg
Off the Bench
33 - Taylor Kissinger - 6-1 - Fr. - G - 10.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg
12 - Emily Wood - 5-5 - Sr. - G - 4.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg
13 - Janay Morton - 5-10 - Sr. - G - 3.9 ppg, 1.2 rpg
15 - Bria Stallworth - 5-6 - So. - G - 3.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg
14 - Grace Mitchell - 6-2 - So. - F - 2.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg
50 - Darrien Washington - 6-2 - Jr. - F - 1.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg
43 - Rachel Blackburn - 6-3 - So. - F - 1.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg
Head Coach: Amy Williams (Nebraska, 1998) Second Season at Nebraska (25-29) 11th Season Overall (218-138)
Michigan State Spartans (15-11, 5-8 Big Ten)
15 - Victoria Gaines - 6-1 - So. - F - 5.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg
32 - Taya Reimer - 6-4 - RSr. - F - 8.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg
4 - Taryn McCutcheon - 5-5 - So. - G - 8.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg
10 - Branndais Agee - 5-11 - RSr. - G - 10.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg
24 - Lexi Gussert - 6-0 - Sr. - G/F - 6.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg
Off the Bench
1 - Sidney Cooks - 6-4 - Fr. - F - 10.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg
33 - Jenna Allen - 6-3 - Jr. - C - 9.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg
12 - Nia Hollie - 6-0 - So. - F - 4.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg
55 - Kennedy Johnson - 6-2 - Sr. - F - 3.2 ppg, 1.9 rpg
11 - Nathy Dambo - 6-3 - So. - F - 0.0 ppg, 0.9 rpg
00 - Shay Colley (knee) - 5-8 - So. - G - 10.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg
2 - Mardrekia Cook (knee) - 6-0 - So. - F - 6.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg
5 - Claire Hendrickson (knee) - 5-11 - Fr. - G - DNP
Head Coach: Suzy Merchant (Central Michigan, 1991) 11th Season at Michigan State (240-119) 23rd Season Overall (441-239)
Scouting the Spartans
Although Michigan State’s record does not appear glossy, the Spartans sit 11 spots ahead of the Huskers in the RPI after MSU’s 66-61 win over nationally ranked Michigan in East Lansing on Sunday. Michigan State is the only Big Ten team to beat No. 10 Maryland (82-68, Jan. 11) so far this season, a win that came in College Park a day after the Terps’ Blair Watson suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The Spartans have been hindered by plenty of injuries of their own, including season-ending knee injuries to sophomore Mardrekia Cook and freshman guard Claire Hendrickson. Michigan State also has played the last seven games without sophomore guard Shay Colley, who was averaging a team-best 11.5 points per game through six league contests. Colley is also suffering from a knee injury. Those injuries have depleted Michigan State’s backcourt, leaving them with sophomore point guard Taryn McCutcheon (8.8 ppg, 5.3 apg) and fifth-year senior wing Branndais Agee (10.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) in the starting backcourt.
The only other healthy guard/wing is senior Lexi Gussert (6.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg), who also has missed time in Big Ten play while recovering from a broken arm. The last four games, Gussert has made two starts and averaged 9.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 24 minutes per game while hitting 13-of-22 shots (.591), including 3-of-10 threes, and knocking down 7-of-9 free throws. Gussert led Michigan State with 14 points in Sunday’s win over Michigan, snapping a six-game losing streak that included setbacks at Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State along with home losses to Indiana, Iowa (OT) and Maryland.
While Michigan State is thin in the backcourt, they have no shortage of depth in the post. Fifth-year senior Taya Reimer, a 6-4 forward in her second season at MSU after transferring from Notre Dame, is averaging 8.1 points and 4.3 rebounds.
Victoria Gaines, a 6-1 sophomore forward, has added 5.7 points and 5.0 rebounds while starting three conference games, including the win over Michigan.
Sidney Cooks, a 6-4 freshman forward, has been one of MSU’s top scorers and rebounders, averaging 10.5 points and 5.2 rebounds. She has started 12 Big Ten games but did not start against Michigan.
Jenna Allen, a 6-3 junior center who is more like a stretch-four, is averaging 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds while starting 10 conference games. Allen has hit 15 threes on the year but is just 4-for-21 in Big Ten play.
Kennedy Johnson, a 6-2 senior forward, has made one start in the league and is averaging 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds on the season.
In all, Michigan State has had 10 different players start at least one conference game for a team that is averaging 66.8 points in Big Ten action while allowing 66.7 points per league game. The Spartans are shooting 40.7 percent from the field but just 29.4 percent from three-point range. MSU owns a plus-2.0 rebounding margin and a plus-1.2 turnover margin in Big Ten games.
Nebraska vs. Michigan State Series History
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Michigan State 6-3 with all nine meetings as Big Ten Conference foes. The Huskers are 1-3 against the Spartans at East Lansing with their lone win coming in a 71-67 victory on Jan. 7, 2015.
The Huskers are 4-0 against Michigan State in Lincoln, including a 76-74 overtime win over the Spartans on Feb. 26, 2017, at Pinnacle Bank Arena. It was one of Nebraska’s three Big Ten wins a year ago and the first overtime game in the series.
Big Red Locking Down on Defense in Big Ten
• Nebraska is showing drastic improvement on defense in 2017-18. Last season, Nebraska ranked 14th in the Big Ten by allowing 76.3 points, including 80.4 points per game in league play. Prior to 2015-16, the Huskers had not allowed 65 points per game since 2004-05.
• This season, Nebraska is allowing 62.5 points per game, including 61.5 in Big Ten play.
• Over the last six games, the Huskers are allowing just 54.3 points per game, despite playing three top-25 opponents at game time.
• Nebraska leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense (.367) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.301).
• Last season, Nebraska allowed 82.8 points per game to go 0-13 away from home. This year, Nebraska is allowing just 63.8 points per game while going 9-1 away from Pinnacle Bank Arena.
• Compared to last season, Nebraska is 6.6 points per game better offensively (69.4-62.8 ppg) and 13.8 points per game better defensively (62.5-76.3 ppg).