Been there, done that.
With many players having competed in more than or close to 100 collegiate basketball games, Penn State’s women’s team has experienced many highs and lows over the seasons.
The No. 8 Lady Lions (18-3 overall, 8-1 Big Ten), who travel to Indiana at 6:30 p.m. tonight, experienced both in less than a week.
Last Thursday, they were stunned in a 63-61 loss at Wisconsin, a team they had beaten by 44 points earlier in the season. The defeat ended an 11-game winning streak.
But on Monday, Penn State rebounded and led from start to finish in a 69-61 triumph against No. 13 Purdue as the Lady Lions snapped a first-place tie with the Boilermakers.
“We’re a veteran team,” senior Alex Bentley said of the turnaround. “We have experience with winning and losing. We took it. It was painful and we moved on. Obviously, we got back at it on Monday.”
Penn State coach Coquese Washington said she expected nothing less than a solid performance from her team against the Boilermakers (18-4, 7-2).
“I wasn’t surprised,” she said of her team’s triumph. “That’s who this team is and who these kids are. When we stumble, stub our toe and don’t have a great performance, we usually come out the next game and play better.”
Washington was impressed with her team’s defense which forced 12 turnovers as the Lady Lions took an 11-point halftime lead. And after the Boilermakers closed to within two points, Penn State used a 10-0 late run to put the game away.
The late outburst was not the first time Penn State has buried a team down the stretch this season.
“We’ve got the killer instinct,” senior forward Mia Nickson said. “We all want to be competitive. We all want to win. ... Sometimes it’s what differentiates — skill and determination.”
Washington points to two variables for her team’s late-game success.
“It’s because of our defense,” Washington said. “It’s tough to close out games if you can’t get stops. Our defense has improved. We’ve been able to get stops.
“We’ve been able to capitalize on timely baskets at the end of the game,” she added. “... We’ve got a number people who can do some good things on the offensive end late in the game, but really its our defense that’s helping us close out games.”
Penn State wasn’t able to close out Wisconsin, which had lost seven of eight entering the game. The Badgers won on a putback with five seconds left.
The Lady Lions said the Wisconsin loss served as a lesson to an experienced team. “It was definitely a learning experience,” Nickson said. “Like I’ve been saying, you can’t take any team in the Big Ten for granted. Wisconsin was really aggressive. They had our number.
“Now it is a better understanding,” she added. “Everybody else is coming. We’re going to get everybody’s best every night, especially the second time around.”
The Lady Lions will get another chance to beat a team at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
The Hoosiers (10-12, 1-8) have lost seven straight under first-year coach Curt Miller, who arrived from Bowling Green to find the cupboard pretty bare in Bloomington.
Indiana is led by forward Aulani Sinclair, who is averaging 16.6 points per game, but just 11.6 in Big Ten clashes. The Hoosiers are having trouble scoring, averaging just 47.2 points per game in the Big Ten. They’ve cracked 50 points just once during their losing streak.
“I have a ton of respect for Curt Miller,” Washington said. “He certainly has Indiana playing with confidence and they’re playing hard. They’re really competing and getting after it. I expect them to come out and play with a lot of energy and focus.”
With the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago instead of Indianapolis this season, Bentley likely will play for the final time in her home state tonight.
“I’m about to see a lot of family,” said Bentley, who led Indianapolis’ Ben Davis High School to a state title. “About 40 people are coming out right now. I’m really excited.”
Getting up to speed
While the Lady Lions have plenty of experience, center Candice Agee is the lone freshman on the squad. Agee, a McDonalds All-American, is averaging 2.3 points and 2.2 rebounds in just under nine minutes per game.
“She is very talented,” Washington said. “In the minutes that she’s played, you see flashes of how good she can play. Right now, I think the game is a little bit too fast for her, but once it slows down for her she’s going to be a terrific player for us. It’s slowing down for her, but it’s not quite slow enough, yet.”
Washington said Agee’s plight is nothing new.
“Everybody goes through this,” she said. “How quickly you adapt varies on the player. A lot of it varies on position, how much you play early on. ... I know she’s going to be better than fine. She’s going to be better than fantastic.”