Penn State Basketball

Penn State basketball: Lady Lions get final tune-up before Big Ten play

Penn State has one final tune-up for before the Big Ten season begins and coach Coquese Washington has plenty of tinkering left to do under the hood before her club zooms into conference play.

“We want to get better at everything quite honestly,” said Washington, whose team returns from a week off for final exams to face the New Jersey Institute of Technology at 1:30 p.m. today at the Bryce Jordan Center.

That contest will be preceded by the Penn State men against New Hampshire at 11 a.m.

Washington offers an honest assessment of her club, which has played well at times during a tough non- conference slate. The No. 11 Lady Lions have gone 9-2, with the only losses coming to No. 2 UConn and Miami, which has been ranked as high as No. 21. She doesn’t see the consistency she’d like heading into the Jan. 3 league opener against Northwestern.

“I think we can be better on offense,” Washington said. “I think our execution on offense can be better. I’d like our bench production to get better. “There’s certain aspects of our defense — our help rotation and our consistency with rebounding — that could be better.

“I could list about 25 things that we can get better at.”

Statistically, the Lady Lions have improved on defense from last season. They’re allowing 58.5 points per game, down about four points per game from last season.

But, they’re also down about a basket per game on offense (73.6 points per game). They’re coming off back-to-back 60-point games in wins over Virginia Tech (60-41) and South Dakota State (60-50) and they failed to crack 60 against UConn (a 67-52 loss).

For the most part, Maggie Lucas (20.9 ppg) has been the team’s only consistent scorer, though five other players have scored 14 or more points in a game.

“I just think that we need to play faster,” said point guard Alex Bentley after last Sunday’s win over South Dakota State. “We have to get on the boards and just get better at practice with rebounding so we can get those easy transition opportunities.”

While it hasn’t always been easy, the Lady Lions are still the favorites to defend their Big Ten regular- season title and Washington expects them to be playing their best basketball in March.

To get there, the work continues.

“In a nutshell, it comes down to getting better as a team,” she said. “The stretches that we have when we’re playing really good basketball, we’ve got to condition ourselves to make those stretches longer so that we are controlling and dominating for the majority of the game.”

Penn State is hoping to control NJIT (6-6), which does feature a dangerous scorer and rebounder. Guard Rayven Johnson is averaging 18.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Johnson scored 23 in a 62-54 loss to Virginia Commonwealth on Friday.

Notes: Penn State leads the all-time series against NJIT 1-0, having won a 79-57 decision in 2009. Penn State has won 11 straight at home. The Lady Lions have won 12 straight non-conference home games. Fans can pay $5 to attend both the men’s and women’s games. NJIT’s roster features three players from Serbia and one from Slovakia.