Penn State Basketball

Lady Lions ready to start conference play

In a way, it’s a chance to wipe the slate clean and get a fresh start.

The start of the Big Ten season means a new beginning for the Penn State women’s basketball team.

The Lady Lions tip off the conference schedule by hosting No. 14 Northwestern at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Bryce Jordan Center.

“(It’s) kind of like a new start to a new season,” redshirt sophomore guard Lindsey Spann said in a conference call with media Wednesday. “We’re taking it game-by-game, so we’re really excited to start out with Northwestern.”

The game marks the fifth time Penn State has played on New Year’s Eve, but the first time the Lady Lions have been in the BJC to celebrate the turn of the calendar.

It also provides a chance to turn the page on the non-conference slate, when the Lady Lions (5-6) had their share of ups and downs. They enter the game having won two of their last three, but that followed a four-game losing skid.

The reasons for the troubles are varied, and not always the same every game. Some days there were tons of turnovers, some days the defense had holes and some days the offense was out of synch. Putting together a complete game was a struggle, and it’s a point of focus for the start of Big Ten play.

“We have to get a little bit more consistency,” coach Coquese Washington said. “I think that’ll be the thing we’ll focus on and talk about going into conference play — having more consistency.”

It will be a challenge against the Wildcats (11-1), who won their first 10 games of the season and climbed as high as No. 12 in the Associated Press poll, their best ranking since the 1991-92 season.

A major reason for the hot start has been a hot offense. Northwestern averages 78.7 points per game, and has beaten opponents by an average of nearly 21 points per night. The Wildcats also have four starters averaging in double figures in scoring, led by Nia Coffey’s 18.2 points per game.

With Penn State scoring 70.3 points per outing, fans at the Jordan Center figure to see plenty of end-to-end action.

“We love to get up and down,” Spann said. “... Them doing the same thing, it’ll be a really fast-paced game and we just want to play our game.”

The Wildcats’ defense also has been prolific in creating the scoring, forcing 12.8 steals per game, which ranks ninth in the nation. Add in decent depth off the bench, and the Lady Lions will have their hands full.

“They’ve just got a lot of weapons,” Washington said. “That just means you have to play attention to everybody. It’s not just a situation where you can say, if you shut down one or two players, then you’re cutting Northwestern off at the knees.”

With a week-and-a-half break to recharge the batteries and hit reset on the season, it also would provide a chance for a confidence boost for the Lady Lions, and an opportunity to get the Big Ten schedule off to a good start.

“We’re in phase two,” Washington said. “Ready to get it going.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @gordoncdt