If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
That’s Coquese Washington’s philosophy on her lineup right now.
With her team having won two straight games entering Wednesday’s 8 p.m. clash at Minnesota, Washington will continue to bring leading scorer and former starter Lindsey Spann off the bench.
A few weeks ago, that move would have seem farfetched since Spann was the only player providing consistent offense on a team (5-15 overall, 2-7 Big Ten) that was struggling mightily.
Never miss a local story.
But Spann caught the flu and Washington had to play without the redshirt freshman for two games. Surprisingly the Lady Lions’ seventh different starting lineup this season began to play better. And with Spann back and providing instant offense as a reserve, Penn State has knocked off Indiana (79-75) and Northwestern (76-75), two teams that had combined for 26 wins.
With her team’s luck changing, Washington has decided to let it ride for now.
“Lindsey is certainly a team-first kid,” Washington said of Spann, who is averaging 14.7 points per game. “Obviously, it’s a little bit of an adjustment. We’ve talked through it and it’s not an issue. We’re going to stick with it for awhile and see how it works for us.”
“My role isn’t any different,” said Spann, who has averaged 23 minutes in the last two games. “I’m still supposed to come in and do the same things I was doing before — being active on defense, score when I’m open and look for my teammates. Just come in and be a spark. ... It’s an adjustment. You just have to figure out how to adjust to it. It’s just different. Over time, you’ll get better at it.”
Washington has a recent history of success with this type of strategy. Maggie Lucas came of the bench her freshman season and led the Lady Lions in scoring with a 15.8 average.
“Co talked to me about that a lot,” Spann said. “I’m just doing whatever my team needs me to do to make the team better. If they need me to come off the bench then that’s what I’m going to do. If they need me to start, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Washington likes having the option of bringing in someone who can hurt an opposing defense.
“When you can look down on the bench and know you’ve got some points and that kind of an impact player, it’s a luxury,” Washington said. “It’s been really helpful for us the last couple of games.”
The last couple of games several Penn State players are playing well. Five Lady Lions have scored in double figures in both victories and they outrebounded both Indiana (47-35) and Northwestern (49-32) by significant margins. Penn State also averaged 15 turnovers in the two victories, down almost 10 from its season average.
“The game is starting to slow down for them,” Washington said. “They are starting to see things before they happen. ... Now they are recognizing things, they’re not as nervous. They aren’t as hesitant ... and I’ve seen more aggressive play. That speaks to their comfort level.”
“Back-to-back wins against really good teams, it just shows how you’re growing and maturing,” said reserve forward Peyton Whitted, who averaged 11.5 points in the triumphs. “As the season goes on, we’re getting better. We’re playing our best basketball right now. This isn’t the same team that we were in November and December. You can tell. I’m so glad of the progress we have right now.”
That progress will get a test from the Golden Gophers, who were ranked in the Top 25 before falling to Purdue (90-88 in OT) and No. 22 Rutgers (66-61) last week.
First-year coach Marlene Stollings has done an excellent job with Minnesota (16-4, 5-3), which lost Big Ten preseason Player of the Year Rachel Banham to a right knee injury 10 games into the season.
The Golden Gophers are led by 6-foot-5 sophomore Amanda Zahui B, who is averaging 17.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. She had 36 points and 15 rebounds against Rutgers.
Zahui B made quite an impression on the Lady Lions last season, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the lone meeting.
“She was just a beast,” Whitted said. “She was aggressive and relentless on the boards. We’re going to have to do a really good job of making her take tough shots and not letting her get second-chance shots, either, because she’s really good at rebounding her own misses. That will be be a big challenge for us, but I think we can do it.”
“She’s really good,” Washington echoed. “She’s got quick feet and good touch around the basket. She has soft hands and catches everything her way. Minnesota does a really good job of spreading the floor to get her touches. And, they’ve got good shooters around her, so it’s not like you can sit back and let other people shoot.”
Washington said her players remain focused on getting better.
“We’ve had a good week,” Washington said. “We weren’t jumping off the deep end before and now we’re not flying off into the clouds, either. It’s been a week, so we’ll take this week and keep growing and getting better.”
Notes: Penn State is 27-12 all-time against Minnesota and has won seven of the last eight, including an 83-53 rout last season. ... Penn State is 9-9 at Minnesota, having lost eight of its last nine there. ... Freshman Shae Kelley is averaging 16.1 points and 9.0 rebounds for the Gophers. ... Banham announced recently that she will return for one more season after being granted a medical redshirt.