It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what the Penn State women’s basketball team has been working on since committing 38 turnovers in a loss to Rutgers on Sunday.
“We’ve certainly emphasized taking care of the ball,” said Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington, whose team (3-13 overall, 0-5 Big Ten) travels to No. 17 Nebraska (12-3, 2-2) for a 7 p.m. clash Thursday. “That’s for sure.”
Turnovers have been a problem for the Lady Lions all season, but they’ve become an even bigger factor now that conference play has begun. Penn State has 123 turnovers in five conference losses, an average of 24.6 per game. Since their opponents are averaging 15 per game, the difference is that opponents are averaging 10 more possessions per contest. It’s translated into about nine more shots per game for those foes.
On Sunday, the Scarlet Knights had 22 more attempts from the field in their 71-51 triumph.
“When we had 38 turnovers, that’s 38 extra possessions they had,” center Candice Agee said of the Rutgers loss. “We were still in the game until the last four minutes. ... We kept them to a low shooting percentage and didn’t let them get to everything they wanted to get out of their offense. If we can cut those turnovers in half, it would have been a totally different game.”
“Even though we lost Sunday, you try to look at it and see what we did well,” forward Kaliyah Mitchell added. “We try to work on those and fix the things that weren’t to our advantage.”
The turnover problem was on the top of the fix-it list.
What is wrong?
“Sometimes I think it’s thinking too fast,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes we think too much and that’s where the turnovers come in. We just need to slow it down and take the game a little bit slower and not move so fast. We have to stop thinking so much and just play the game.”
But, it’s difficult playing when the whistle is blowing so often. Penn State is last in conference play with a 55.6 scoring average.
“Our flow gets interrupted a lot of the time on game day because of the turnovers,” Washington said. “It’s hard to develop a rhythm and flow on offense when you come down and three or four possessions you turn the ball over. As we get better at taking care of the ball and making better decisions on offense, I think that flow that we’re looking for offensively will be there.”
Washington said it’s not just Xs and Os or bad decisions that are ruining the rhythm.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” she said. “It’s experience, confidence in making certain plays, reading things and the speed in which you recognize things. It’s not being able to take advantage of opportunities, having two on one breaks and not finishing. I don’t think there’s one thing — it’s just a little bit of everything.”
The Lady Lions, who are starting two sophomores and a freshman, face a team that’s chocked with experience. Connie Yori’s Cornhuskers start four seniors and junior Rachel Theriot, who has started since since she was a freshman.
“They have good chemistry and play well together,” Washington said.
Theriot is one of the league’s best all-around players. The first team All-Big Ten pick last season averages 18.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. She shoots 46 percent from 3-point range and 92.6 percent from the foul line.
“She’s good,” Yori said of Theriot. “She’s got versatility to shoot it from the 3-point line, to get mid-range jumpers, to get all of the way to the basket with her floater and to pass it. She’s a multi-dimensional player and those are the toughest to guard.”
The Lady Lions are also wary of Tear’a Laudermill. The senior guard nailed seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in a 94-74 romp over Penn State last season.
Washington and her squad also don’t relish the long trip and playing before the large pro-Husker crowd in Lincoln.
“They draw very well,” Agee said. “We could be playing before 8, 9 or 10,000 fans. When it’s loud, the challenge we’re going to have is just talking. Nebraska is one of those teams that shoots very well at home. ... We’re going to have to work on our communication and stay poised.”
The three-time reigning Big Ten champions have remained remarkably upbeat despite the rough season. They were loose and flashing smiles prior to Wednesday’s practice.
“You can never really get down,” Mitchell said. “We’ve still got games ahead of us, so you can’t let games before get you down. You’ve got to come in the gym with your head up and fix and work on things.”
“I think the lack of despair in my voice is that even though we haven’t had a good season so far I still have all of the confidence in my teammates and my coaches,” said Agee. “(We’re) buying into the this program and knowing we’re going to get better every day.”