Last season built “tremendous patience” for Coquese Washington.
This season, she wants wins.
“Our expectations, we want to win every game,” the Penn State women’s basketball head coach said at media day on Wednesday. “It’s not that complicated for us. We want to be our best, and play our best basketball in March.”
It may be tough, with so much inexperience on the roster. The team is welcoming four true freshmen and two freshman walk-ons. The Lady Lions have also added senior Brianna Banks to their list of eligible players. Banks is a 5-foot-9 guard, who sat out last season after transferring from Connecticut.
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“When you have a team that’s a little inexperienced in some respects, you know, you’re going to take some lumps,” said Washington. “We may be a little inconsistent early in the course of the season, but we just want to get better as the course of the season goes on.”
In the offseason and preseason, building camaraderie was incredibly important.
“They’ve been fantastic, I think they’re definitely going to have a major role on our team this year,” said Washington. “I think they have picked up on things very quickly; they’re very coachable. And they do a great job, I think, of trying to do things that are outside their comfort zone. Sometimes you don’t get that with freshmen, they want to stay in their comfort zone, but these four kids, you know, whatever we tell them to do, they try to do it.”
Washington said the team “bonded” and developed chemistry rapidly, as many of them already knew each other from the recruiting process.
“I think that’s in part because the freshmen were ‘sponges,’ ” said Washington. “They still are. They were sponges when they walked on campus, and I think when you have that type of approach and attitude, it’s easier to develop the kind of chemistry that we’ve seen so far.”
One of the new faces on the roster is point guard Teniya Page, an explosive, speedy player out of Marian Catholic in Chicago. Page was the No. 27 hoops prospect in the nation (ranked by ESPN/HoopGurlz) and finished her high school career with 1,617 points, 395 rebounds, 512 assists, and averaged 17.7 points per game her senior season to help the Spartans to a 28-3 record in one of Chicago’s toughest conferences.
“Oh, she’ll be on the court,” said Washington with a grin. The head coach said Page’s playing style reminds her of Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul.
“She’s fun to watch. She’s fast, she can score. She’s got great court-vision…She does a really great job of finding her teammates and giving them catchable passes where they can be finishers.”
Redshirt sophomore Lindsey Spann was the leader of last year’s group with 384 points, 37 nets of which were three-pointers. But a notable player who will be missing all season is redshirt junior guard Sierra Moore, who tore her ACL at Penn State’s scrimmage last week.
“We’re really going to miss Sierra, but at the same time we realize everyone has to step up,” said Spann. “We have a lot of new scoring options; a lot of the freshmen who have come in can shoot the ball very well, they make good decisions. So that and our locker room, with what we already have, will help us and boost us tremendously.”
Moore was an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection last season after scoring 362 points and racking up 116 assists and 36 steals.
Walk-ons with local ties
The Lady Lions have added two walk-ons this season in Leah Knizner and Sarah McMurtry.
McMurtry, a native of Pittsburgh, apparently has an extremely consistent shot. Washington said she made 200 free throws in a row before coaches made her stop shooting earlier this year.
“I like the idea of having a walk-on, someone from the community that can get a chance (to play) at Penn State,” said Washington. “And someone who can contribute to the team.”
Knizner is the daughter of former Penn State quarterback Matt Knizner, who played from 1985-87 and was a member of the 1986 national championship team. Knizner is most well known for throwing a touchdown pass to Brian Siverling on his first play in a win over No. 10 Alabama in 1985 after coming in for injured starting quarterback John Shaffer.
“That touchdown pass is like my bedtime story,” joked Leah, who said she’s really proud of her dad for that moment. The 5-foot-9 guard said she grew up a Penn State fan, came to almost every home football game in the fall, and has often heard her father tell stories of his time as a Nittany Lion.
“I’m just so proud to be here,” she said. “Because I’m kind of carrying on what he had through my sport. Being able to play a sport for this school, a school that her went to and he gave everything he had for, it just means a lot to me.”
A faster game?
This year, the NCAA ruled that women’s basketball move to a four-quarter format. Teams will play four 10-minute periods, a change from the traditional 20-minute halves.
Teams will be able to reach the bonus and shoot two free throws if a fifth team foul is committed, in each quarter. Team fouls reset to zero at the start of every quarter, except if a team reaches the bonus in the fourth quarter — in which case that team can remain in the bonus, according to NCAA rules.
“This year we only have four timeouts with three carrying over, as opposed to in the past when we had five timeouts with four carrying over,” said Washington. “So we do get one less timeout, (but) I do think it helps when you’re a team with a smaller rotation, because you get more built-in breaks.
“I think there will definitely be a different flow and feel to the game, and I think that’s something our fans are going to have to get used to...I think the game will be a little bit faster, and that was one of the rationale and the reasons behind making the change.”
According to the NCAA, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Board of Directors supported the change.
Penn State hosts an exhibition game against California (Pa.) on Sunday at 2 p.m. before its season opener against Holy Cross at 7 p.m. on Nov. 13.