Are you unsure of your role and do you feel like you don’t know the real you?
These are questions that are asked of someone who may have an identity crisis.
Penn State women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington is trying to get those same questions answered by her team.
Heading into Thursday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge game at No. 21 Syracuse, the Lady Lions are off to a 1-5 start, the worst in program history through that stretch.
Washington says her club, which has lost four times by five points or less, is struggling to establish its identity. She’s started seven of the nine players on the current roster, with Sierra Moore, Lindsey Spann and Kaliyah Mitchell being the only players to start in every game.
In year’s past, Washington could count on what players like Maggie Lucas, Alex Bentley, Nikki Greene and Ariel Edwards could give her consistently at both ends of the floor.
“We’re six games in, and we’re still figuring that out,” Washington said at her team’s weekly new conference. “Sierra (13.3 ppg) and Lindsey (13.8 ppg) are starting to figure that out a little bit, but I think it’s going to take us a few more games to really get our hands around what our identity is as a team.
“We may not be a team that has a dominant offensive player and that’s OK. That doesn’t have to happen on every team, but we’ve got to certainly figure out what we’re going to get from everybody on every night. Our youth is impacting that right now.”
It’s been an impact on the offensive end. The Lady Lions are averaging 62 points per game, down 13.1 points from last season’s average. Over the previous four seasons, Penn State has averaged less than 73.6 points per game.
Tori Waldner, the only returning senior and starter from last season, agrees with Washington’s diagnosis.
“We’re still trying to find our identity,” Waldner said. “People were scorers. People were drivers. You could tell on our team who did what. Now it’s like we do a mix. ... Everyone can do something. It’s trying to find out what works best.”
Washington said the squad has been working hard at practice to solve its problems and often the squad looks very good on the floor in South Gym.
Getting that same quality of play on the Bryce Jordan Center floor has been more elusive.
“That’s one of the things that happen with a young team is the carryover,” Washington said. “That’s one of the things that we talked about in our preseason (news) conferences — we’ll see what happens when the lights come on. I feel like a broken record but it’s the truth — some of this is learning how to play on gameday and how to play in new roles. It takes time and it takes some kids longer than others. That’s the patience that we have as coaches. We’re being patient as they’re figuring it out.
“We certainly are able to do things in practice with a level confidence and certainty in execution that we’re seeing in bigger and bigger stretches on gameday, but we need to see them in longer stretches on gameday,” she added.
Penn State has gone through long droughts. The Lady Lions had just eight points over the final 10 minutes on Sunday as Samford closed with a 24-8 run to tie the game in regulation. The Bulldogs won 59-56 in overtime.
“It’s subtle things,” Washington said of her team’s offensive woes. “We’re having a tough time putting the ball in the hole. I think we’re getting pretty good shots. ... We’re struggling to knock them down in game situations.”
Penn State is shooting 39 percent from the field, including 24 percent from 3-point range. The Lady Lions have just 77 assists on 140 baskets.
“It’s just a matter of sharing the ball and finding the open person,” Moore said of ending the offensive woes. “... I just think it’s reading defense in the game and thinking of the different situations that we’ve gone through in practice and using the other plays that we know.”
The Lady Lions will face a stiff test against Syracuse (5-1). The Orange nearly knocked off top-ranked South Carolina last weekend, falling 67-63.
Syracuse has tremendous scoring balance so far this season. Starters Alexis Peterson (14.2), Brianna Butler (11.8) and Bria Day (11.2) score in double figures as does reserve Diamond Henderson (12.5).
Opponents are shooting just 37 percent against the Orange.
Washington acknowledges the Orange’s talent, but says her team really can’t worry about the strength of the opponent.
“That’s a team that has a lot of weapons and a lot of depth,” She said. “We’re going to work on the things that work for us. We’ll approach the game that way.”
Moore said the squad can’t be saddled by the losing skid.
“The past is in the past,” Moore said. “That’s the kind of mindset we have to have. We’re starting new. We’re starting fresh and we’re confident. We’re going to be committed to what it takes and what we have to work on.”
Agee is back
Center Candice Agee was limited to two minutes of action against Samford after “tweaking her leg in practice,” according to Washington.
“We gave it a go,” Washington said of the short stint for Agee, who is averaging 7.7 points on 48 percent shooting. “I wasn’t really happy with how she looked during the game, but everything turned out fine. There’s no problem.”
Penn State is 16-2 all-time against Syracuse. ... The Orange won the last meeting between the two at the Carrier Dome with a 72-53 triumph. ... Penn State is 2-5 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and is winless in three road games. ... Spann has scored in double figures in each of her first six games.