(23) Michigan State (11-2) at Northwestern (8-3)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Evanston, IL
Temp: 71° F
  • Game info: 7:00 pm EST Sat Jan 3, 2009
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Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas is coming off his best game of the season. As a result, so are the Spartans, according to coach Tom Izzo.

Lucas and the 10th-ranked Spartans look to build on a conference-opening win over a ranked opponent as they try to continue their dominance of Big Ten rival Northwestern on Saturday night.

Lucas scored a career-high 24 points on Wednesday to lead Michigan State (10-2, 1-0) to a 70-58 win over No. 21 Minnesota in its conference opener. The speedy 6-foot sophomore guard, who came into the game shooting 34.5 percent from the field, was 9-for-18, including 2-for-4 from 3-point range.

After averaging 10.3 points and 3.8 assists as a freshman, Lucas is putting up 12.4 points and 6.1 assists per game this season.

“I think he’s starting to see things, he’s so quick,” Izzo said. “Last year, he went at a blur speed and did not really get to see the court and see what was happening on it.”

With Lucas playing some of his best basketball Wednesday, the Spartans also delivered one of their best performances of the season. Though they shot just 40.6 percent in the defensive battle, they held the Golden Gophers to 39.6 percent, outrebounded them 49-27 and outscored them 28-18 in the paint to notch their sixth straight victory.

“We’ve been out of sync a little bit, but today I think we played better than we did against Texas,” Izzo said Wednesday, referring to the Spartans’ 67-63 win over the then-No. 5 Longhorns on Dec. 20.

“Other than a couple of sloppy plays we executed pretty well, we rebounded pretty well, we defended pretty well. I’d say this was one of our best games.”

Izzo hopes for a similar performance against a Northwestern team Michigan State has dominated over the last decade. The Spartans have won 18 of their last 19 games against the Wildcats (8-3, 0-1) since 1997-98, including 10 straight since the 2002-03 season.

Michigan State won the teams’ two meetings last season by an average of 15.5 points, including 78-62 at Welsh-Ryan Arena, where the Spartans have won seven of their last eight.

To end their struggles against the Spartans, the Wildcats could use a better performance than the one they put together in their 61-57 loss to Penn State on Wednesday. Northwestern led by as many as 11 points in the second half but couldn’t hold on, losing its conference opener for the third straight season.

“We’ve got to tighten up,” coach Bill Carmody said. “We have to rebound (against Michigan State), and I think we can run our offense and stuff. … Everyone’s going to have to commit.”

Though Northwestern had some success in non-conference play, its recent history against Big Ten rivals is dismal. The Wildcats are 3-32 in conference action since the beginning of the 2006-07 season. They’ve lost 11 straight Big Ten games at home since beating Penn State 53-51 on Feb. 10, 2007.

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