As much as basketball coaches spend time scouting prospective players, recruiting is not an exact science.
Penn State coach Coquese Washington is finding that out right now.
No, Washington doesn’t doubt the talent of her squad. She’s waiting to see more of it on the court.
“The big thing is you just don’t know how slow or quick the development will be when they get here,” said Washington, whose squad is off to a 3-9 start. The three-time defending Big Ten regular-season champions dropped their conference opener 77-52 at Iowa on Sunday and travel to Michigan (8-4, 0-1) on Thursday.
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So far, the development has been slow for the Lady Lions. Washington has been leaning heavily on a large sophomore class along with redshirt freshman Lindsey Spann, who would have been a sophomore this season had she not suffered a knee injury.
Most of those players saw little meaningful action last season and are being asked to replace four and sometimes five slots in the lineup
“This class that we have here, they’re talented and they are adjusting to new roles still,” Washington said. “You’ve heard me say all season long that it’s going to take awhile to develop our identity and oncourt chemistry and that it may take us into conference play because we are so inexperienced at so many positions. We don’t have two or three people who know what they are doing and we can build around them.”
Penn State fell behind 16-1 at the start to Iowa, rallied to within 20-16, but never threatened again against the No. 23 Hawkeyes, who started three seniors.
“Against Iowa, we sometimes had a freshman and four sophomores out there a lot of the time, including Alex Harris who was playing her second game of the season,” Washington said. “Now you add another element to the mix in terms of chemistry.”
Starters Candice Agee and Sierra Moore spent the final 18 minutes on the bench against Iowa as Jenny DeGraaf, Peyton Whitted and Harris got extended playing time.
“We opted to go with a little smaller, quicker lineup and to try to get Jenny out there and make some shots,” explained Washington , whose team shot 31 percent against the Hawkeyes. “Going smaller with Alex and Peyton inside, that gave us some speed. We got some good shots. We just didn’t make them in the second half.”
Spann seems to have made the quickest adjustment. Her 22-point effort against the Hawkeyes was her fourth 20-point game of the season. The current Big Ten Freshman of the Week has led the Lady Lions in scoring in eight of her first 12 games and is 10th in the league with a 16.2 average.
Washington says that Spann reminds her of former Lady Lion Alex Bentley, a point guard who can run the offense, but also score. Bentley became the fourth player in league history to finisher her career with more than 1,500 points (1,786), 500 assists (567) and 300 steals (325).
“She’s doing a great job,” Washington said. “She’s getting better at balancing scoring and running the team. When I look back at Alex Bentley when she was a freshman and having to learn how balance scoring with running the team, I think Lindsey is on pace to have the same kind of growth that Alex had.”
Harris has made an impact, despite missing all but the final non-conference game for personal reasons. Harris has come off the bench to grab 19 rebounds in two games.
“She’s athletic and she’s quick in the post for us,” Washington said. “She gives us another weapon and she rebounds the ball very well. We’ve got to get her to do a little better job of taking care of the ball (Five turnovers against Iowa). But other than that, I’ve been really pleased.”
Washington said her club remains positive.
“We just finished practice and we had a really spirited practice,” she said on Tuesday afternoon. “I think they’re ready for the challenge. I think they understand that the conference season is a long season. We’ve got to keep getting better.
“As we know, road games in the conference are tough to get. Anytime you can get one it’s good and we’ve got to try to get one at Michigan.”
Michigan got off to a hot start, winning 6 of 7, but has dropped 3 of 5, including a 63-53 decision at Wisconsin on Sunday.
The Wolverines feature a balanced attack with four players scoring in double figures. Cyesha Goree averages 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Freshman Katelynn Flaherty comes off the bench to lead the team with a 13.8 scoring average.
“Cyesha Goree is a tough cover,” Washington said. “She’s averaging a double-double and she’s really aggressive on the boards. Our posts are going to have their work cut out for them.
“They bring Katelynn Flaherty off the bench and she’s leading them in scoring. They have some good, crafty guard play with (Shannon) Smith and Flaherty. Again, we’ve got our work cut out for us at pretty much at every position.”
While everyone on the roster and on the coaching staff in anxious to see a Big Ten victory, Washington remains committed to the process.
“It’s about being patient, continuing to teach, seeing the progress being made and to not get caught up in the results,” she said. “It moves at its own pace. I’m seeing the progress that we need to see it in a lot of areas. We’re staying steady and staying the course.”
Notes: Penn State is 31-9 all-time against Michigan, including 14-5 in Ann Arbor. ... The Lady Lions have won the last seven straight, including 77-62 in the only meeting last season. ... Penn State has won three straight at the Crisler Center. ... The Lady Lions are 0-4 when trailing at the half and 0-7 when trailing with five minutes remaining. The Lady Lions have not won a game this season in which they’ve shot less than 45 percent. ... Michigan is 6-1 at home this season. ... Michigan is 8-1 when shooting 40 percent or better and 7-0 when leading at halftime.