Maybe having little time to think about your next opponent is a good thing.
That’s what Penn State women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington is hoping.
The Lady Lions (3-11 overall, 0-3 Big Ten), are off to the worst start in program history and face Wisconsin at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, with just a day to get ready after falling 91-76 against Illinois on Sunday afternoon.
“It might work well for us,” quipped Washington when asked about the short turnaround following Sunday’s game. “They might not have enough time to think about what’s going to happen and just go out there and play.”
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Washington said there wouldn’t be a whole lot of practice time devoted to the Badgers (5-8, 1-2) anyway.
“One of the things we’ve always done is not spend so much time worrying about other teams and having different schemes for this, that and the other,” she said. “It’s about building a foundation of how we play. It’s hard if you’re going to change your scheme every game and with a young team that could be too much. You’ve got to build a foundation and be able to have a base of what you do. Do what you do and do it well. That’s our challenge right now.”
And, this season has been challenging.
So far, the Lady Lions have been pummeled in the first half of league games. They’ve trailed by 17 to Iowa, 30 to Michigan and 20 to Illinois and could not get within single digits in the second half.
They shot 60 percent in the second half against the Illini on Sunday, but never got closer than 10 points.
“We’ve got to play with heart,” said redshirt freshman Lindsey Spann, who led the Lady Lions with 20 points against Illinois. “You can’t give up just because you’re down. That is a pride thing. We’ve got to start off like that. We can’t let people just take over and then decide we want to play hard. We have to start off the way we finish.”
Washington, who used her ninth different starting combination against the Illini, said the team has to experience the Big Ten. For example, only senior Tori Waldner had been to Michigan’s Crisler Center before the Lady Lions faced the Wolverines.
“Everything is new and when things are new you tend to play passive or with hesitation,” she said. “... Their tendency has been be a little passive and to be a little less aggressive than we’d like them to be. I wish I could give them an energy bar that would magically transfer and put in their brains, ‘This is what it’s going to be like.’ That is what the function of what experience gives you.
“Those kind of things as much as we try to downplay it are important,” she added. “They carry a lot of weight. This team has to get the experience of Big Ten play. As you’ve seen, these first three games have kind of been an eye-opening experience.”
And as much as Washington wants to find that quick-fix “energy bar,” she’s taking a patient approach.
“When are they going to be comfortable playing all of these firsts? I don’t know,” Washington said. “I think it’s different for different players. Lindsey Spann seems to figure it out pretty quickly. Some of these other ones, it takes a little bit. ... They have to get comfortable that’s going to happen at their pace.”
Washington points out that other young players have struggled throughout her first eight seasons as coach. Thanks to their teammates, it may not have been as obvious.
“In the past, we’ve had more upperclassmen who’ve been able to cover up some things,” Washington said. “When Alex Bentley was a freshman, she was horrible defensively, but she played with some other upper classmen who didn’t make her look so horrible. These guys don’t know how to cover for each other quite well enough, yet. But even though the scores don’t necessarily reflect it, I see progress.”
The Lady Lions have a couple of statistics in their favor Tuesday. The Badgers are the only other team in the Big Ten with a losing overall record and Penn State has a 29-11 edge in the all-time series.
But even the best of Lady Lion teams have struggled in Madison. Of Wisconsin’s 11 wins in the series, nine have come on its home floor.
Bobbie Kelsey has struggled since taking over the program in 2011. She’s 12-39 in conference play.
Nicole Bauman leads the Badgers with a 13-point average, the only current starter scoring more than eight points per game.
Penn State players vow to get things moving in the right direction.
“We are very determined,” Spann said. “We know we’ve got to get better. It’s going to take us trusting each other and knowing what we are capable of, knowing what this team can do and just believing in that and fighting every time in practice and games. If we fight in practice, it will transfer over to the games.”