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Huskers Set for Showdown with Spartans

Huskers Set for Showdown with Spartans
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Huskers Set for Showdown with Spartans
• The Nebraska women’s basketball team opens a two-game Big Ten road swing this week by traveling to East Lansing to take on Michigan State on Wednesday. Tip-off between the Huskers (18-7, 9-3 Big Ten) and Spartans (15-11, 5-8 Big Ten) at the Breslin Center is set for 5 p.m. (MT).

• A live video stream will be provided to subscribers of BTN Plus.

• 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.

• Nebraska is 8-0 in true road games this season, including 5-0 in Big Ten road contests.

• Nebraska is one of only five NCAA Division I teams that is unbeaten in true road games this year joining Mercer (11-0), UConn (11-0), Louisville (11-0) and Mississippi State (7-0). On the men’s side, only Ohio State (5-0) and Saint Mary’s [Calif.] (9-0) are undefeated in true road games this season.

• Five of Nebraska’s nine Big Ten wins have come against NCAA RPI Top 50 teams (through games Feb. 11), including Iowa (20) twice, at Rutgers (25), Purdue (42) and at Minnesota (46). NU’s only conference losses have come to RPI No. 6 Ohio State, No. 13 Maryland and RPI No. 44 Michigan in overtime.

• Nebraska’s other losses this season are setbacks to RPI No. 21 Buffalo, No. 38 Creighton, No. 87 Washington State and No. 141 Clemson. The Huskers played without starter Maddie Simon (10.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) in the losses to Buffalo, Creighton and Clemson in November, while their leading scorer in non-conference play, Taylor Kissinger (14.0 ppg), missed the game with Washington State because of injury. One of NU’s top players off the bench in Big Ten play, projected preseason starter Janay Morton, did not play against Buffalo or Creighton while recovering from offseason surgery. She played less than one minute against Washington State after aggravating the injury and missing the two previous games.

• 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.

• Nebraska’s plus-11 improvement in the win column from a year ago is the second-best increase in the nation trailing only Rutgers (+12).

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
Injured
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 Michigan State Spartans
• Coach Suzy Merchant brings another tough bunch of Spartans into Wednesday night’s game with Nebraska. Michigan State enters the week with a 15-11 overall record that includes a 5-8 Big Ten mark.

• 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.

• Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against the Spartans on Valentine’s Day, a 73-66 win in Lincoln in 2016.

• NU’s most lopsided win in the series came with an 86-58 victory over the Spartans in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on March 8, 2014 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

• Michigan State’s three series wins have all been by double digits in East Lansing, including a 73-53 win in the first-ever meeting on Feb. 23, 2012. Two years later, the Spartans worked their way to a 70-57 win on Jan. 9, 2014, before rolling to a 93-73 victory over the Huskers on Jan. 7, 2017.

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).

• Nebraska allowed just 42 points at No. 25 Rutgers, the lowest point total by an opponent in Coach Amy Williams’ two seasons at NU and the fewest points surrendered by the Huskers since holding Creighton to 38 on Dec. 14, 2013. It was also the fewest points allowed by the Huskers in a road game since holding Michigan to 39 points on Feb. 21, 2013, in Ann Arbor.

• Nebraska has held nine foes to 55 points or less, including 42 at No. 25 Rutgers, 47 to Illinois (Feb. 1) and Coastal Carolina (Nov. 24), 48 to Wisconsin (Feb. 11), 49 at Kansas (Dec. 6), 51 to Purdue (Jan. 24), 52 to Arkansas Pine Bluff (Dec. 2), 53 to SIUE (Nov. 11) and 55 at San Jose State (Dec. 17).

• Last season, the Huskers held just two foes to 55 or less.

• The Huskers have held two opponents (Illinois, 2nd, 0-12, Feb. 1; at Kansas, 4th, 0-14, Dec. 6) without a field goal in a quarter this season. They are the only two times Nebraska has held an opponent without a field goal since the advent of the quarter system.

• Nebraska held Illinois (Feb. 1) to just 10 points in the first half – the lowest total by an opponent in a first half in school history. Illinois managed just one point in the second quarter.

• Nebraska held Kansas (Dec. 6) to just 13 points in the second half, the fewest points ever scored in a half by a Husker road opponent on their homecourt.

• The Huskers limited a potent Michigan offense to just 14 second-half points (4 field goals), including five points in the third quarter, to take the No. 23 Wolverines to overtime (Jan. 13).

• Since accomplishing it the first time in the first quarter (8 points) against Coastal Carolina (Nov. 24), Nebraska has held opponents to single digits in a quarter a total of 13 times, including seven times in 12 Big Ten Conference games. The Huskers held Michigan (3rd, 4th), Rutgers (1st, 4th) and Illinois (1st, 2nd) to single digits twice in the same game.

• The Huskers have held each of the Big Ten’s top five scoring offenses to double digits less (in regulation) than their current season scoring averages, including Ohio State (85.4 ppg – 73, Lincoln, Dec. 28), Minnesota (84.9 ppg – 74, Minneapolis, Dec. 31), Maryland (84.0 ppg – 64, Lincoln, Feb. 4), Iowa (79.4 ppg, 65, Lincoln, Jan. 13) and Michigan (76.5 ppg – 62, Lincoln, Jan. 13). Michigan State ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 73.7 points per game.

• In a season sweep of Iowa, the Huskers held the high-scoring Hawkeyes to just 1-for-19 from three-point range combined. In the first first meeting, Iowa went 0-for-7 with multiple air balls and had two attempts blocked by Huskers.

Husker Nuggets
• A win for Nebraska over Michigan State would be the Huskers’ 19th victory of the season, which would be a plus-12-win improvement from last season (7).

• At 8-0 in true road games, Nebraska is one of only five women’s teams in NCAA Division I (349 teams) unbeaten in true road contests, joining UConn, Mississippi State, Louisville and Mercer. The only men’s teams unbeaten on the road are Ohio State (5-0) and Saint Mary’s [Calif.] (9-0).

• Kate Cain owns the Nebraska record for blocks in a season with 81, surpassing the previous mark held by Olympic bronze medalist Danielle Page (78, 2007-08). Cain has at least one blocked shot in all 25 games this season.

• Cain’s 81 blocks rank No. 6 in the nation while her 3.2 blocks per game rank seventh in the country through games Feb. 11. No Nebraska individual has ever averaged 2.0 blocks per game in a career, and only two Huskers (Danielle Page, 2.4 bpg, 2007-08; Catheryn Redmon, 2.5 bpg, 2010-11) have ever averaged 2.0 blocks per game in a single season.

• Nebraska freshman Taylor Kissinger has come off the bench in the first 12 Big Ten games. The 6-1 guard from Minden, Neb., is averaging 10.7 points per game on the year. Kissinger averaged a team-best 14.0 points per game over the first seven games this season as a starter before missing Nebraska’s final six non-conference contests with a knee injury.

• Kissinger (10.7 ppg) and Cain (10.5 ppg) have a chance to become just the second freshman duo and the first since 1982-83 to each average double figures in the same season, joining Debra Powell (15.4 ppg) and Crystal Coleman (12.3 ppg).

• Junior Maddie Simon (+6.5 ppg) is one of the Big Ten’s most improved players in 2017-18. Simon, a 6-2 forward, is averaging 10.6 points per game after averaging 4.1 points through all 29 games a year ago.

Nebraska Streaks
• The Huskers have won nine consecutive games away from Pinnacle Bank Arena, including eight straight true road games and five consecutive Big Ten road games.

• Sophomore guard Hannah Whitish (42) owns the longest current streak of consecutive starts by a Husker. Nebraska’s second-longest streak is 24 games by freshman Kate Cain.

• Whitish is the only Husker to start all 25 games this season.

• Nebraska has featured the same starting lineup in 17 consecutive games (13-4 record).

• Whitish has posted at least one assist in 27 consecutive games, and has three or more assists in 23 games this season.

• Kate Cain has blocked at least one shot in each of the first 25 games of her career. She has 21 games with two or more blocks.

• Cain has at least two rebounds every game this season.

• Maddie Simon has at least three rebounds in all 21 of her games this season.

• Taylor Kissinger has dished out an assist in 11 consecutive games off the bench.

• The Huskers have knocked down at least one three-pointer in 305 straight regular-season games dating back to a loss at UTEP on Dec. 20, 2008.

• Nebraska has hit at least two three-pointers in 184 consecutive games.

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