7:00 PM ET, December 17, 2005
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Liz Shimek just finished her final exams, but two bigger basketball tests await after a 23-point victory.Shimek scored 24 points and Michigan State (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today; No. 11 AP) overcame a sluggish start to beat Houston 76-53 on Saturday night. But all the talk was of back-to-back visits to No. 15 Oklahoma and No. 3 LSU the next two Wednesdays."We're really excited about the challenge ahead," Shimek said. "We didn't really step up to the plate in the Virgin Islands [losing to No. 1 Tennessee and No. 8 Maryland]. Now, we have to take those lessons and run with them."Shimek, the Big Ten's leading scorer, was 11-for-14 from the field against the Cougars. She also had eight rebounds and five assists as the Spartans (7-2) won their fifth straight game.Victoria Lucas-Perry scored 14 points, Rene Haynes had 13 and Lindsay Bowen added 11 for Michigan State, which made it 18 straight wins in Breslin Center."That's a great environment for women's basketball," Houston coach Joe Curl said. "We've been pretty good the last five or six years. But we're a little down, and Michigan State could've really put it on us. That shows the class of their coaches and players."Tye Jackson, a transfer from Purdue, had 26 points on 7-for-27 shooting in her first game with the Cougars (2-5). Freshman Sha'Ratta Hawkins, the No. 3 scorer in Conference USA, had 12 points for Houston."I know basketball is meant to be played inside-out," Curl said after his starting guards were 9-for-40 from the field. "I know that because we've been seeded as high as No. 2 in the NCAA Tournament. But from the penthouse to the outhouse is a short distance. It's all about the players."The Spartans trailed 22-21 when Shimek scored three times and fed Lucas-Perry for a 3-pointer to spark a 24-6 surge that ended the first half. The lead grew to 26 points with 7:35 left."It was good practice in shutting down an opponent's go-to players," Lucas-Perry said. "You have to take everything as preparation. And we're prepared to play more as a team."Michigan State had a 56-39 rebounding edge but committed 26 turnovers. The Cougars shot 25 percent from the field and missed 27 3-pointers."We had more people get involved in rebounding than at any time this year," Spartans coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "That's good, because against Oklahoma I'd suggest we get as many people rebounding as we can."Michigan State won tough nonconference games at Notre Dame and Connecticut last year but knows the Sooners and Tigers won't be like Houston."We're excited about this opportunity," McCallie said. "No question, those games we lost left a sour taste in our mouths. And no question, we're a more physical team and more mature than we were in the Virgin Islands."