East Lansing — Tori Jankoska will be known as one of the best women’s basketball players to wear a Michigan State uniform.
Jankoska, a 5-foot-8 senior guard, is the Spartans’ all-time scoring leader, also owning the top spot in 3-pointers, but she wants to be known for her all-around game, a reason she was proud of the night she had a triple-double (24 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) in a 85-69 win over Minnesota Feb. 16 at Breslin Center.
Jankoska and the Spartans (19-10, 9-7) won three straight, including an 86-68 win over then-No. 20 Michigan in Ann Arbor, before stumbling at Nebraska Sunday which prevented them from a double-bye and a No. 4 seed in this week's Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.
Now, the Spartans will have some work to do if they want to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, needing at least one win and possibly two to play in the Big Dance. No. 6 seed Michigan State will play Thursday night against the winner of today’s first-round game between No. 11 seed Wisconsin and No. 14 seed Rutgers for the right to face No. 3 seed Michigan in Friday’s quarterfinal.
“This is the most important week that we’ve had all season and we have to go and take care of business and hopefully win a couple of games,” Jankoska said. “We have to come in and be focused as a team and ready to attack whatever challenge comes our way.”
Jankoska was a unanimous choice for All-Big Ten first-team honors by the coaches and media members. She became the first Michigan State player to score 2,000 career points earlier this season and averages 22.5 points overall and 23 points in conference games, second behind only Big Ten Player of the Year Kelsey Mitchell (24.2) of Ohio State.
And, maybe that’s why Jankoska’s 42-point effort — another MSU record — in a 94-75 win rout of Big Ten regular season champion Ohio State is so satisfying to Jankoska.
“I love scoring the ball and that game was really fun, beating the No. 11 ranked team in the country, do it by breaking the career scoring record and single-game record in the same night, but I loved the Minnesota game too because I was able to show that I could rebound and I could pass and I could score so that I’m not just a one dimensional player,” Jankoska said.
“I just want to be remembered as a great Spartan and that comes with toughness, leadership, by never letting anything get in my way, really push through adversity. I want to be remembered not just as a Spartan great on the court, but I want to leave my legacy off the court too and be a good role model to young girls.”
MSU coach Suzy Merchant feels blessed to have been able to work with Jankoska.
“Tori has the heart of a champion,” Merchant said. “She’s feisty, competitive and we speak the same language. That can be good and bad sometimes, but I know how to coach that level of intensity and she’s really special that way.
“Everybody wants to be a great player, but not many people are willing to put the work into it. There’s kids in this league that are great scorers, but don’t play defense or rebound. Tori’s close to a triple-double every night and she’s this big (not a physical threat) and not super athletic, doesn’t move the best and has played a lot of minutes, but just has the heart of a champion.
“Tori, I don’t know if it goes back to how she came into this world with some heart issues when she was a baby having to be that fighter, but I’ve just never seen anyone that maybe doesn’t have the athletisim and the skills as everybody else just find a way to will herself to be the best she can be.”
Jankoska was born with a hole in her heart and had other ailments in her youth.
“When I was born I had a hole in my heart and they (doctors) gave it like a five percent chance of it closing on its own so when they went in to do the surgery it closed,” noted Jankoska. “They said that’s where the fighter part came from, just because I did have to sit in a lot while other kids went out and played. I had allergies and really bad asthma so really my whole childhood I was in and out of the hospital, getting allergy shots twice a week so I went through a little bit of struggles growing up and had to fight through some things.”
Jankoska said by Kindergarten her problems were under control. She still needs to use an inhaler before practice and games.
Jankoska wants to end her career by playing in the NCAA Tournament, knowing the Spartans have to have success this week in the Big Ten tournament.
Big Ten women’s tournament
At Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
All games on BTN except championship game, which is on ESPN2
No. 12 Nebraska (7-21, 3-13) vs. No. 13 Illinois (8-21, 3-13), 1:30 p.m.
No. 11 Wisconsin (8-21, 3-13) vs. No. 14 Rutgers (6-23, 3-13), 4 p.m.
No. 8 Iowa (17-12, 8-8) vs. No. 9 Northwestern (19-10, 8-8), noon
No. 5 Purdue (19-11, 10-6) vs. 12-13 winner, 2:30 p.m.
No. 7 Penn State (19-9, 9-7) vs. No. 10 Minnesota (14-15, 5-11), 6:30 p.m.
No. 6 Michigan State (19-10, 9-7) vs. 11-14 winner, 9 p.m.
No. 1 Ohio State (25-5, 15-1) vs. 8-9 winner, noon
No. 4 Indiana (20-9, 10-6) vs. 5-12/13 winner, 2:30 p.m.
No. 2 Maryland (27-2, 15-1) vs. 7-10 winner, 6:30 p.m.
No. 3 Michigan (22-8, 11-5) vs. 6-11/14 winner, 9 p.m.
Semifinals, 4 and 6:30 p.m.
Championship, 7 p.m.