For many years, the Penn State women's basketball team has often played on Super Bowl Sunday, many times winging its way home from the Midwest, while the big game was being played.
This year, it is different. Like most folks, the Lady Lions had off on Sunday while San Francisco and Baltimore were duking it out for NFL supremacy.
Even more important, they have a pretty big game that is worth waiting a day to play.
No.7 Penn State (17-3 overall, 7-1 league) squares off against No. 14 Purdue (18-3, 7-1) at the Bryce Jordan Center with first place in the Big Ten on the line.
While each team still has eight league games remaining, Monday's clash could be the one that decides the Big Ten regular-season title and top seed in the conference tournament.
The Lady Lions and the Boilermakers are already two games clear in the loss column of their nearest pursuers in the jumbled league standings. And, this will be the only time the two teams meet in the regular season.
While the game could have a big impact on league crowns, Penn State coach Coquese Washington has other concerns. Her club is coming off its worst performance of the league season, a 63-61 loss at Wisconsin, a team the Lady Lions had beaten by 44 points just two weeks earlier.
“I think the game is important for us is No.1 we have to get back on the winning side of things and No. 2 they’re the next team up,” Washington said. “We’ve got to play at a high level for 40 minutes. We’ve got to execute for 40 minutes.”
Washington readily admits her team has not been doing that lately. The Lady Lions trailed often and squeaked past Minnesota (64-59) and were down nine points at halftime before storming back to whip struggling Ohio State (71-56).
“In some instances, we may have dodged a bullet by not doing that,” Washington said of playing at a high level. “We didn’t do that at Ohio State. We didn’t do that against Minnesota and we certainly didn’t do that at all (against Wisconsin). We’ve got to regroup and play at a high level for the whole game. Get locked in and do the things that we need to do.”
The Lady Lions have experience with bouncing back from poor play. They started the conference 1-2 last year before winning 12 of their last 13 games to win the league title.
“I’m confident that we’ll regroup,” Washington said. “This is a competitive bunch. They’re not happy right now — certainly about the loss, but in general of how we played. I know they have got a lot of pride and fight and we’ll get back into the gym and fix things.”
The Boilermakers didn’t have one of their better games that last time out, but still cruised to a 59-42 win against Indiana. Courtney Moses and Drey Mingo, Purdue’s top two scorers, had awful nights by combining for two points on 1-for-18 shooting. The Boilermakers got a big lift as April Wilson and Taylor Manuel combined for 23 points off the bench.
“When two of our tops scorers struggled, other people stepped up,” Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said after the win. “That’s a great sign of a great team.”
“It can be anybody’s night to go off,” said starter Sam Ostarello,” who had 14 points and 10 rebounds against the Hoosiers. “We really have six or seven weapons as scoring options.”
Washington is concerned about the Boilermakers’ bench. “They’ve got a tremendous amount of depth on their team,” she said. “They’ve got kids that come off the bench and are impactful for them.”
Washington also is impressed with Purdue’s grit. The Boilermakers have won four conference games in overtime this season.
“That’s the mark of a tough team that can play all of those overtime games and find ways to win,” Washington said. “Physically they’re a tough team and they seem to be a pretty mentally tough team as well.”
The two squads split last season, with Purdue topping the Lady Lions 68-66 on a buzzer-beater in the final meeting in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. The Boilermakers (26-16) are the only Big Ten team with a winning record against the Lady Lions.
“They’ve always been a very good defensive team,” Washington said. “We know they’ll be physical and try to be disruptive. We have a tremendous amount of respect for them. We have to have a better effort on Monday than we did (Thursday).”
Notes: Purdue has won eight of the last 10 meetings against Penn State. ... The Lady Lions are 9-8 all-time at home against the Boilermakers. ... Purdue has four starters averaging double figures in scoring. ... The Boilermakers are 11-0 when Ostarello gets 10 or more rebounds. ... Purdue leads the Big Ten in free throw percentage (77.7). ... Topped by Moses (9), five different players have led the Boilermakers in scoring this season. Purdue is averaging 12 points less per game (64.0) on the road than at home. The Boilermakers are 16-0 when leading at the half.