Most fans would have thought this season was going to be an easy transition for Penn State women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington.
The Lady Lions lost just one player (starting guard Zhaque Gray), picked up a junior transfer (guard Dara Taylor) who learned the program while sitting out a season per NCAA rules and brought in one freshman (center Candice Agee). They also returned their top reserve (guard/forward Ariel Edwards).
But entering today’s noon clash against Georgetown at the Bryce Jordan Center, Washington admits the transition hasn’t been easy. Through their first eight games, the No. 10 Lady Lions (6-2) are averaging almost 18 turnovers per game. In its two losses, Penn State committed 29 turnovers against Miami and 24 against No. 2 Connecticut.
“It’s early,” Washington said after Thursday’s 67-52 loss to UConn. “It’s December and we’re still finding our rhythm. We’re integrating new people into new roles and that just doesn’t happen overnight.”
Washington recently tinkered with the original starting lineup, moving Taylor in as a starter and bringing Edwards off the bench.
“I like the speed, the defensive intensity, and the aggressiveness and assertiveness that we have,” she said of having Taylor in at the start.
She also likes what Edwards brings off the bench. In her two games as a reserve, Edwards is averaging 14 points and shooting 71 percent from the floor.
“She gives us some size and athleticism coming off the bench,” Washington said of the 6-foot-3 junior.
Taylor admits her transition into the lineup is taking some adjustment. While she was around the program last season, she often played against her current teammates in practice. She was familiar in playing with Maggie Lucas through AAU basketball, but had little playing time with fellow point guard Alex Bentley.
“For a long period of time in a game setting, the three of us haven’t really played together,” Taylor said. “They’ve kind of created a duo of comfortability on the court. I kind of have to get to their level. I have to work myself in and be where they’re at right now.”
Taylor said the only way to get to that level is more practice and especially time together with Lucas and Bentley in game action.
“I’ve got to learn when Alex is attacking, when Maggie wants the ball,” Taylor said. “It’s just the little things on the court that will make their life easier and their job a little better. It’s going to take patience, but they’re great to work with. They’re constantly talking me through it.”
Taylor also said there’s a fine line in getting the ball to others and taking her own shot. Washington has harped on the speedy 5-foot-8 guard taking open shots.
“As a passer, I always have to get them the ball,” Taylor said. “On the other hand, I have to look for myself to be aggressive, get shots, put the ball in the basket because that’s going to help the team.”
Edwards says she’s willing to do whatever she needs to do to help as well. The early season has been a bit of a rollercoaster for her. She had a 24-point effort against Detroit, but had three points and three turnovers in 15 minutes against Miami.
She’s played well in her two games as a reserve. She provided all but two of the team’s bench points against UConn.
“I don’t think my approach to the game changed just because I wasn’t starting anymore,” Edwards said. “In general after Miami, my mindset changed a little bit on what I need to provide for the team in order for us to be successful.”
Washington has said she may continue to adjust the combinations on the floor. Edwards says she’ll fill whatever role she’s asked to do.
“If things change, then they change,” Edwards said. “If they don’t, then I guess she likes the decisions that she’s made.”
Washington is confident the Lady Lions will hit their stride.
“I’m really confident in our team and really confident in the growth that we’re going to have between now and postseason play,” she said. “We’re going to continue to get better.”
The Lady Lions will be looking to bounce back against their toughest non-conference opponent to play at the Bryce Jordan Center this season. The Hoyas are 7-2 with their only two losses against No. 21 North Carolina (63-48) and No. 11 California (72-56).
Georgetown is led by one of the most prolific scorers that Penn State will face this season. Sugar Rodgers is averaging 24.2 points per game and moved past the 2,000-point mark for her career in Tuesday’s 61-48 victory over Monmouth. The 5-foot-11 guard also averages 7.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per contest.
“Sugar’s accomplishments are just outstanding,” said first-year Georgetown coach Keith Brown after Tuesday’s win. “When she came to Georgetown, I thought she could get to 2,500 points and now that these things are starting to come to fruition. It’s amazing. I just wish more people throughout the country would start to take notice.”
Washington is well aware of what Rodgers and Georgetown bring to the table.
“This is going to be a tough game,” she said. “Georgetown is a team that presses. They’re athletic. They run all over the place. With the short turnaround for us, we’ve got to get in the gym and turn our attention to trying to be competitive on Sunday.
“It’s going to be a tough game, but I think our kids are going to be up for the challenge and we look forward to coming back home.”