They’ve logged nearly 13,000 miles in the air and on the ground so far this season. Throw in a preseason junket to Europe and the number jumps to nearly 23,500 miles.
The non-conference globetrotting finally ends tonight for the No. 11 Penn State women’s basketball team as it travels to Blacksburg, Va., to face Virginia Tech at 7 p.m.
If the Lady Lions (7-2) could borrow a little bit from an old TV series, this season could be called, “Have Ball, Will Travel.” They’ve logged trips from Connecticut to California to Florida and points in between like Texas and Virginia. They also went to France and Italy in August for a series of preseason exhibition games.
While she and her teammates have spent a lot of time in the air and in hotels, senior forward Mia Nickson sees the benefits. The Lady Lions have played at three teams currently ranked in the Top 25, including No. 2 Connecticut.
“Our road schedule has been one of the best since I’ve been here,” said Nickson. “I really enjoyed playing the high-caliber teams that we’ve played. I don’t think anyone that we played didn’t cause problems for us that we had to adjust to. We were really focused in film and with our scouts. We had to be on our toes because they were capable of beating us and we’re going to see them in the tournament at some point.”
The Lady Lions enter tonight’s clash with a 2-2 mark on the road with the two losses coming at current No. 21 Miami (69-65) and UConn (67-52). They defeated No. 23 Texas A&M (63-58) and Cal State Northridge (85-73).
“I think we’ve played very well,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said of her team’s road clashes. “We knew we had some tough non-conference road games and we just wanted to perform well in all of them. I’ve thought for the most part, we have performed well.
“Even though we didn’t win the game in Miami, that was a tough challenge given a cross-country trip (after playing in California). We were still in position to take that game, even with our tired legs. We went to UConn and had our opportunities there as well. You’re not always going to come away with a win, but I like the way we’ve fought in all of our road games. ... We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball on the road, but I think that will come as we move into conference play.”
Guard Maggie Lucas sees a benefit that extends past the regular season.
“It will be a good thing for us later down in the season, just getting that experience on the road for everyone,” she said. “You could end up anywhere in the NCAA Tournament and we’ll be prepared for that.”
And Nickson sees even further into the future.
“Especially for those who want to play after this, this is what they’ve got to get used to,” she said, referring to professional basketball. “People that aren’t going to play, they get a look at the professional world where you have to stay up late one day and get up early the next day. It’s good at helping us prepare us for whatever future endeavors we go into.”
The Lady Lions head into tonight’s contest coming off their best effort of the season, a 97-74 dismantling of Georgetown. They were dominant in the first half, riding Lucas’ 26 points to a 53-25 halftime lead.
“It shows how patient we can be,” Nickson said of the offense. “There was a lot of passing going on and there weren’t a lot of quick shots. We made the defense work.”
And Penn State’s defense frustrated the Hoyas into 9-for-34 shooting in the half.
“I think it was kind of a glimpse of who we can be, who we need to be and who we want to be,” Washington said. “We’ve got to have that for 40 minutes. Certainly, that is the type of team we want to be — a team that plays tough, aggressive, stingy defense that leads to some pretty good transition opportunities and when we have to slow it down we can execute in the halfcourt as well.”
The Lady Lions will face a team tonight that they embarrassed last year at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Hokies scored a school-record low in a 66-28 loss.
Virginia Tech (4-3) has struggled offensively this season, having lost 55-35 to Old Dominion and 57-29 to Michigan State.
The Hokies have just one player averaging double figures, junior guard Monet Tellier (12.1).
“She’s playing good basketball and does it in a variety of ways,” Washington said of Tellier. “They rely on her a lot to score points and generate offense for them. We’re going to have pay a lot of attention to her.”
Lucas is coming off a career-high 39-point effort against Georgetown. The junior, who leads the Big Ten with a 22.7 scoring average, was named the U.S. Women’s Basketball Writers Association’s National Player of the Week on Tuesday.
Notes: Penn State leads the all-time series 2-0 against Virginia Tech. The Lady Lions defeated the Hokies 61-48 in Blacksburg in the 2004 NCAA Tournament. ... Ariel Edwards is 17 of 23 from the field since assuming a reserve role three games ago. ... Lucas needs one basket to reach 1,400 points for her career.