Over the years, Penn State has been one of the most prolific scoring women’s basketball teams in the Big Ten.
Opponents knew if they were going to beat the Lady Lions, they had better be prepared to score plenty themselves.
Now Big Ten opponents are just trying to score against Penn State.
Heading into Wednesday’s 7 p.m. home clash against Indiana, the No. 13 Lady Lions (13-4 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) lead the conference in holding their opponents to 34.7 percent shooting.
Penn State is coming off two stellar defensive efforts. The Lady Lions held Ohio State to 29.6 percent shooting in a 66-42 triumph last Thursday. On Sunday, they became the first conference team to beat Michigan State, holding the Spartans to 31.7 percent in a 66-54 triumph at the Breslin Center.
Winning easily while scoring in the 60s hasn’t been Penn State’s style.
“Every team is different,” said Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington. “We had a lot of veterans last year who understood how to score and how to make an impact on the offensive end of the floor. This group is still learning that. I think that will come. While we’re waiting for our offensive flow and rhythm to develop, we have to be a very strong defensive team.”
Washington renewed the defensive emphasis after the Lady Lions were carved up by Purdue in an 84-74 loss. Washington said that loss was a wake-up call for her young squad.
“Conference play started and in some ways we had to start over in terms of learning ourselves and how we needed to play in the conference to be successful,” she said. “I think last week hit it on the head for us — defense has to be the constant for us. If we can be tough defensively every night, I think we’ve got a shot to be competitive with every team in our conference.”
There were no major changes to schemes in the Lady Lions’ 2-3 zone and man-to-man defenses. The improvement had to do with effort.
“Coquese focused on the starting five and said, ‘You have to lock down on defense,’” center Talia East said. “We looked at each other and said, ‘If we’re going to do the things that we set on our list for the season, we’ve got to lock down.’”
Success came against the Buckeyes and followed against the Spartans, who had been averaging 85 points per game at home.
“It had all to do with our defense,” said Maggie Lucas, who is second in the league in scoring with a 20.9 average. “We focused on our defense and we made offense happen from our defense. I think that’s going to be our focus for the rest of the season. We’ve seen how successful our defense can be so it’s contagious.”
Penn State will get a test from one of the conference’s biggest new impact players, Indiana freshman Larryn Brooks. The 5-foot-5 freshman guard is averaging 17.8 points and 4.3 assists for the Hoosiers (15-3, 2-3) who have already won more games this season than they have since 2009.
The Hoosiers (75.1) are averaging nearly 20 points more per game than they did last season. They’re averaging a league-best 7.3 baskets from 3-point range per game and coming off an 83-78 overtime win over Minnesota. In that game, the Hoosiers started five freshmen and got 74 points from first-year players.
“You got to know where Larryn Brooks is and you have to get them off of the 3-point line,” Washington said. “It doesn’t matter what defense we’re playing. Those two things have to be of utmost importance to us.”
Washington has been impressed with Brooks. “She’s fearless. She doesn’t play like a freshman,” Washington said. “She has a lot of confidence. She’s a relentless attacker on the offensive end. She’s got the full arsenal — she can shoot the three, has the pull-up, can get to the rim and finish and she’s a pretty good passer. She’s a really good player.”
Thanks to their win at Michigan State, the two-time defending league champions are back at the top of Big Ten standings along with Michigan and the Spartans.
“To be in that position, we knew we had to go to Michigan State and get the win,” said Lucas, now 10th all-time in the Big Ten with 2,193 points. “Now, it’s kind of in our control.”