It didn’t seem like it at the time, but in retrospect Purdue may have done the Penn State women’s basketball team a big favor on Jan. 12.
The Boilermakers, behind their strong transition offense, rolled to an 84-74 triumph that was the Lady Lions’ first Big Ten home loss in two years.
Penn State hasn’t been the same since.
The No. 12 Lady Lions haven’t allowed 55 points in winning four straight games and vaulting to the top of the Big Ten standings.
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They’ll get a chance to see just how much they’ve improved defensively as they travel to Purdue for a key conference clash at 6 p.m. Thursday at Mackey Arena.
While Purdue didn’t shoot an outstanding percentage (36.1), the Boilermakers nailed 8 of 17 3-pointers and drew numerous fouls. They went 24 for 28 and scored 11 more points than the Lady Lions from the foul line.
“We certainly learned some lessons from it,” Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said. “We definitely learned and understood a little bit better how much we ha ve to focus on being better defensively.”
“Ever since we were beaten by them, we’ve had a chance to work our weaknesses and improving ourselves,” senior Maggie Lucas agreed. “Every loss kind of teaches you something. For that, it really exposed we needed to work on our defense. Since then, we’ve made some really big strides.”
Those strides have been significant. Penn State (15-4 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) hasn’t held four straight Big Ten opponents under 55 points since 2000.
“Up until that point, there were still some fundamental things that we weren’t that sharp in,” Washington said of the Purdue game. “We just had to get back and re-emphasize some of our fundamentals.
“I think there has been more of a sense of urgency on the kids part of making sure we execute and execute at a high level the foundations and fundamentals on the defensive end. I think they’ve really taken to heart that we’ve got to be sound in those areas. We can’t have a ‘C’ effort in those areas because that leads to giving up 84 points.”
Washington believes the improvements were not limited to defense.
“In some ways we’ve grown offensively as well,” she said. “Even though we may not have put up the number of points in our suebsequent games, our offensive execution is getting better. We’re getting contributions from a number of different people. Our bench is coming along and giving us good production.”
Purdue coach Sharon Versyp certainly sees a difference in the Lady Lions, who now lead the conference standings.
“They’re playing a lot harder defensively,” she said at her pre-game news conference. “... All of us when you lose, you’re find out what your weaknesses are and you’re going work on those things. They’re playing totally different in that way and I think they’re being more aggressive in certain areas on offense.”
The Boilermakers (15-5, 5-3) have made some adjustments after a loss as well. After beating the Lady Lions, they fell to Northwestern, but have rebounded to win four straight. They’re led by guards Courtney Moses (15.7) and KK Houser (15.3), two guards who are excellent 3-point shooters. Whitney Bays added 11 points of the bench.
“We’ve got to guard them,” Washington said. “We’ve got to defend. ... We have to do a better job of making sure we get to people, especially in transition.”
“We were able to isolate and attack certain players and go one-on-one on different parts of the floor,” Versyp said of the first matchup.
Penn State will need a supreme effort at Mackey Arena, where they’re just 5-14 in program history.
Purdue is the only team in Big Ten which owns a winning record against Penn State, a whopping 27-17 edge.
“It’s matchups,” said Washington of the battles with the Boilermakers, who won 11 straight before the Lady Lions have bounced back to win three of the last five. “They always have pretty good players over at Purdue. When you’ve got good players that makes for good games.”
And Washington expects another barn-burner and not because her team lost earlier.
“Revenge isn’t a factor,” she said. “We’re a forward looking team. We’re not looking backward at what happened weeks ago. We’re looking forward to how the rest of the season plays out. This game certainly has implications for the conference race. The focus is on doing what we have to do to put ourselves in the position to win the Big Ten. That’s what fuels us.”
Notes: Penn State has not won back-to-back road games against Purdue in school history. The Lady Lions won 74-63 in their last trip to Mackey Arena in 2012. ... Lucas needs 16 points to move past former Purdue standout Shereka Wright for ninth on the Big Ten’s career scoring list. ... Lucas needs 23 3-pointers to break Kelly Mazzante’s school and Big Ten record. ... Purdue has outrebounded its last four opponents. ... Purdue leads the Big Ten by shooting 39.6 percent from 3-point range in conference play.