Sorry Dorothy and your ruby slippers.
For a third straight season, the Penn State women’s basketball team is defying your famous line from The Wizards of Oz.
As far as the Lady Lions are concerned, “There’s no place like the road.”
Heading into Thursday’s 7 p.m. clash at Indiana, No. 11 Penn State is 19-3 over the past three seasons in Big Ten road games. Those numbers are a big reason why the Lady Lions are two-time defending conference champions and lead the Big Ten race this season.
Penn State (18-5 overall, 9-2 league) is the lone unbeaten team (6-0) on the road in the Big Ten this season. With five games left in their regular season, the Lady Lions lead Michigan State (8-3) and Nebraska (7-3) in the conference title race.
What has made Penn State so good on the road this season?
“Sometimes I think when you travel and go on the road, it’s a little easier to block out the distractions,” Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said. “You’re in the hotel and kind of secluded a little bit from some of the distractions.”
Point guard Dara Taylor said that there are different kinds of distractions on the road, especially since the Lady Lions are often playing a time zone from home.
“It’s easy to be tired,” Taylor said. “You’ve got jet lag and time differences. It’s easy to get caught up in that kind of thing. I think our team has just done a really good job of staying locked in this season.”
A big part of the road success has been Penn State’s defense. The Lady Lions have held half their road foes (including Michigan State) to less than 32 percent shooting. On average, Penn State’s opponents have shot 36.7 percent on their home floors.
But it’s not like everything has gone Penn State’s way from the start. The Lady Lions have trailed at halftime in half of their conference road wins. What they’ve excelled at is winning the final 20 minutes. Northwestern is the only team to outscore the visiting Lady Lions this season.
“We do a very good job of staying together on the road,” Maggie Lucas said. “We know that other teams are going to make their runs and feed off their crowd. Honestly when the crowd gets loud, that’s kind of our check-in. It’s like, ‘Alright, we’ve especially got to come together right now.’ It forces us to play together and depend on each other.”
“It’s a mindset,” added Taylor. “We go into it knowing it’s going to be a tough environment everywhere we go. I actually think we’re more focused on executing the game plan and keyed in on what we need to take care of.”
And so far, that has gone well.
“Going into some pretty hostile environments at Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State, (we’ve) played some pretty good basketball,” Washington said. “Hopefully, the trend can continue.”
Indiana (17-6, 4-6) didn’t have much luck with the Lady Lions at the Bryce Jordan Center earlier this season. The Lady Lions amassed a 54-30 edge on the boards in a 65-52 triumph.
Washington doesn’t expect things to go easy in Assembly Hall.
“I always think it’s tougher when you play teams the second time,” she said. “They’re a young team. The first time we played them here was the first time playing against our team, our size and our style. They’ll be used to it. They play a lot better at home and they’re going to be more confident in executing their game plan in front of their fans and in their gym.”
The Hoosiers start three freshmen, including Larryn Brooks, who is averaging 17 points per game. Indiana leads the league by making 7.5 3-pointers per contest.
“We’ve definitely got to make sure we’re defending very well and we’re not letting them get open for 3-point shooting because they’re still shooting very well,” Washington said.
Lucas and Ariel Edwards had 18 apiece against Indiana in the first meeting. Talia East was a monster inside with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Heading into the stretch run, Washington still wants to see more from her team.
“I like being in first place, but one of the things we talk about with our team is that you’ve constantly got to be focusing on getting better and growing,” she said. “We’re doing a lot of things well. There’s some things that we’ve got to get better and grow at. I’d like to get more contributions from our freshmen and our bench. We’ve got keep growing defensively and in our transition offense. I certainly like where we are, but we want to keep growing. I think we still can play better in all phases of the game as we wind the season down.”