While her team has started the season with two losses, Penn State coach Coquese Washington is adamant that things will get better.
“We’re not that far away, if we can fix a few small things,” Washington said after Saturday’s 75-70 loss to Seton Hall.
The Lady Lions (1-2) have three games in the coming week to show if they can improve, starting with Tuesday’s 5:30 p.m. clash against St. Bonaventure at the Bryce Jordan Center. That contest will be followed with the Penn State men (4-1) facing Akron (3-1).
The three-time defending Big Ten champions have sputtered out of the gate and have dropped consecutive tight games to Albany (54-53) and Seton Hall. In those two losses, the Lady Lions have committed 53 fouls and 42 turnovers.
“With different possessions and decisions, our youth showed,” Washington said of her young squad after Saturday’s loss. “As they get more experience and get a lot more confident in playing at this pace, I think we will be fine.”
What makes Washington so confident?
“I know the hearts of the kids,” she said. “They want to be good. There’s not a lack of desire or anything. The only thing that’s lacking is having been out there and being in that position.”
“I think we’re a determined group,” guard Jenny DeGraaf said after the Albany loss. “(The loss) showed how young we were and how hard it is to be a great team. You have to work on that title of being great. That’s what we’ve been working to do at practice.”
One ray of sunshine for the team Saturday was the play of Candice Agee. The junior center had a career-high 21 points and was dominant offensively in the paint as she led a comeback against the Pirates.
It was the kind of effort that many have been waiting to see from Agee, a former McDonald’s All-American in high school. A knee injury slowed the 6-foot-6 junior last season, but she is healthy now.
Prior to the season, Agee talked about living up to the hype about her game.
Was that performance what she was talking about?
“I guess you could say that,” said Agee, who also had five rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 17 minutes. “I just want to play hard. I want to do what needs to be done for my team. I want to do what’s asked and expected of me. If some some nights that looks like a 20-point game, then that’s alright with me.”
Seton Hall coach Anthony Bozzella, who saw Agee play in high school and AAU action, said he was glad to see her play well, even if it was at the expense of his team.
“She’s a great player who just didn’t seem to ever get into the flow,” Bozzella said. “Hopefully this will spur her into being an all-conference type player. ... I’m glad she played well because she seems like a wonderful kid. I was in awe watching her in high school.”
Washington was encouraged with Agee’s performance, but was concerned with the number of minutes she played because of foul troubles.
“She’s got to learn how to stay out of foul trouble,” Washington said. “Once we do that I think we’ll be able to have a pretty good balance offensively.”
The balance also would be aided if the Lady Lions started making more layups, especially in transition. Washington wants the team to play at a frantic pace, but her players have struggled to finish on the break. The Lady Lions had just eight fastbreak points in each game against Seton Hall and Albany.
“When we get adept at converting our transition opportunities, we will be a much improved team,” Washington said. “Our conversion rate in transition is not as high as what we need it to be.”
The Lady Lions will face a team Tuesday that has never beaten them. Penn State is 10-0 all-time against St. Bonaventure. The two teams last met in 1991.
The Bonnies are led by Katie Healy (11.2 ppg) and Hannah Little (10.2 ppg).
The Lady Lions will have a huge height advantage against St. Bonaventure, which does not have a player taller than 6-foot-1.
Penn State concludes the week with games at the Georgia State Thanksgiving Tournament. The Lady Lions will face Liberty, which beat Penn State in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, at 2 p.m. on Friday and will face either Georgia State or Samford on Sunday.