When you look at Penn State’s basketball schedule and see a couple of opponents that will be huge underdogs, you might think the No. 17 Lady Lions are looking to ease into conference play.
After all, Coquese Washington’s squad (7-3) already has played three ranked teams, including No. 1 Connecticut and No. 4 Notre Dame.
But starting with Sunday’s 11 a.m. tip against Alcorn State, these last two non-conference games hold special meaning for the Lady Lions’ newest players.
Members of the six-player freshman class will have a chance to show how much they’ve learned and can contribute before Big Ten play opens at No. 22 Iowa on Jan. 5.
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Home games against Alcorn State (1-7) Sunday and Hartford (2-9) on Dec. 29 should provide playing time for those freshmen.
“In the next couple of games, we’re trying to prepare for the league,” said assistant coach Fred Chmiel, who filled in for Washington during the team’s weekly news conference. “We want to know what we have in the stable. Those kids are going to play. We’re going to put them out there and see what they
can do in the next two games and get ready for a tough conference schedule.”
That’s the kind of news the freshmen like to hear.
“To know that we have big games coming up that we’ll be expected to play big minutes in is always a good thing for us,” said freshman Keke Sevillian. “We’re always ready and on our toes. Whenever Co needs us is when we’re ready.”
Sevillian certainly is one of those freshmen looking to show she can make an impact. The bubbly guard from Goodrich, Mich., is averaging a little under 10 minutes per game in eight games. She did not play in the Lady Lions’ last clash, a 66-58 triumph over No. 24 Texas A&M.
Sevillian is still recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee, which caused her to miss he senior high school season. The former track star has worn a brace all fall.
“It’s not fully recovered yet because I’m not out of the brace, but hey, I’m playing,” Sevillian said. “That’s what I want to be able to do. After awhile, I don’t even know the brace is there. It’s different, but there’s nothing you can do. You just keep moving forward.”
For Sevillian, moving forward means playing good defense. In her scant minutes, she has excelled at pressuring opposing guards and has six steals to go along with a 3.1 scoring average.
“That’s my role. I’m a defensive player,” Sevillian said. “I’m ‘the pest.’ That’s what I embrace within my game is to be able to spark the team through my defense. Defense wins games. That’s an awesome role.”
Each freshman is looking for a niche to get more minutes for the Lady Lions, who have held opponents below 34 percent shooting this season.
Forwards Kaliyah Mitchell (16.9 minutes) and Alex Harris (13.9) have seen more playing time than the rest of the freshman class, but Chmiel said playing time varies on the size and athleticism of the opponent.
That may not be the case in the approaching games.
“There are a few that have shown through and they get a bit more minutes,” Chmiel said. “I think especially these next two games, they’re going to be out there and be tested.”
Sevillian said the key thing for each freshman is to be prepared and not anxious.
“You can’t be nervous,” she said. “You have to be ready at all times. As a freshman group, we’ve learned you can’t be nervous. You have to be ready to do what the team and Co needs us to do.”
Sevillian said the entire season thus far has been an education.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Sevillian said. “Coming into college, it’s a different level and we’ve been working hard. Basketball is fun. This is what we do and we love doing it. We’ve been working hard every day to get closer to our goals and what we want to accomplish as a team.”
The Lady Lions certainly want to add to Alcorn State’s misery. The Lady Braves have lost seven straight with four of those losses coming by 40 points or more. Included in those blowouts was a 112-28 drubbing at Illinois.
Tiero Frost (15.4 points per game) is the only Alcorn State player averaging in double figures, but she is shooting less than 25 percent from the floor. The Lady Braves, led by former Tennessee standout Tonya Edwards, have not scored more than 54 points in any game this season.
“They’re not making shots right now,” Chmiel said. “At some point, they’re going to start making shots. We hope that it’s not on Sunday.”
Notes: Today’s game is part of a doubleheader. The Penn State men face Mount St. Marys at 2 p.m. This will be the first meeting between Penn State and Alcorn State. The Lady Lions are 4-0 against members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. ... Washington and Edwards are both natives of Flint, Mich. They played against each other in high, college and professionally in the ABL and WNBA.