Penn State women’s basketball head coach Coquese Washington let out a hearty chuckle on Wednesday afternoon, when she was asked whether or not she was “concerned” about the fact that the Lady Lions’ last opponent, Minnesota, was able to pour in 98 points to the former’s own 85.
“Um, yes,” she said drily. “That’s quite the understatement of the year.”
Washington said she thinks it’s been tough for her team to adjust defensively when a specific player -- in this case guard Carli Wagner, who put up 32 points on Penn State -- “gets going early.”
The team scrambles to counter, she said, and sometimes it doesn’t quite work out for them.
“You try to tighten the defense up on her, and then she’s just on fire at that point,” Washington said. “We have to make sure we do a better job of finding their shooters and getting to their scorers early, and making them take tough shots.”
Minnesota kept getting wide-open shots early on, leading to 26 first-quarter points, and never looked back.
Michigan State (Penn State hosts the Spartans this Thursday night at 7 p.m.), has not only two prolific shooters of its own in guards Tori Jankoska and Aerial Powers, but also has an inside scoring threat in 6-foot-3 center Jasmine Hines, who Washington said she thinks is playing the best basketball of her career thus far this season.
“Yeah, they’re pretty doggone good,” said Washington. “We can’t lose track of them in transition...They’re dangerous when they run free.”
Guards stepping up in ‘tiring’ Big Ten play
Freshman point guard Teniya Page will be the first to admit she’s a little worn out, as the halfway-point of Penn State’s season approaches.
She’s started all 13 games and averages 36.2 minutes per game -- a high mark in the conference for a freshman.
It’s a lot. I wouldn’t say I’m stressed about anything, but it’s a lot of minutes. You know, playing against fifth-year seniors (and) big guards that have been doing this for a long time, they’re a lot stronger. It’s a lot to take in, especially at once...It really drains me at the end of the day, but I’m really happy with it.
Freshman guard Teniya Page, on Big Ten play
“I’m tired,” she said. “It’s a lot. I wouldn’t say I’m stressed about anything, but it’s a lot of minutes. You know, playing against fifth-year seniors (and) big guards that have been doing this for a long time, they’re a lot stronger. It’s a lot to take in, especially at once...It really drains me at the end of the day, but I’m really happy with it.”
The Big Ten is accentuated by solid guard play from almost every team. And with Page and Spann showing more consistency as a tandem than at the beginning of the year, Penn State is now no different as conference play unfolds.
The two have combined for 75 points in their last two games alone, with Spann contributing 32 and Page 43. Against Minnesota, they complemented each other well despite the loss, with Spann pouring in 30 points and Page 16.
“One of the things I think about Big Ten play is (that) we’ve got some really, really good guards in this conference,” said Washington. “I mean, you go from Norwestern to Minnesota, to now Michigan State...I mean, we’ve got some really good guard play in this conference. So every night I feel like we’re going in, coming in and we’ve got to shut down guards.”
Page said she’s becoming more accustomed to playing “on-ball” defense, something she didn’t do as much of in high school. And, it translates over to increased aggression on the other side of the ball too.
“She’s doing a better job of attacking, of being aggressive from the start,” said Washington, who said earlier this season if she could pick something in which she’d like to see the young guard improve, that would be it.
“That’s just one area in which she’s grown, is being in that ‘attack-mode’ for 40 minutes.”
Page said it’s been an adjustment for her, because she’s playing so many minutes. She’s working on a solution, and it’s to play smarter basketball.
“Maybe (when I’m tired) my legs aren’t there to jump as high, or get to certain places as quick as I usually do, but I just try to be smart and focus on the little things that helped me get here in the first place,” she said.
Washington knows that the effort of Page, as well as her other freshman counterparts, is there...even if at times she can see their apprehension at all of the new experiences and information they’re getting.
“This is a hardworking bunch,” she said. “It’s just a lot. Every now and then, I can still see the bubble above their heads with a big question mark in it. But they’re coming along, and their attitude and work ethic is really good.”
Page has stepped up her consistency and leadership, and Washington can only think of one or two instances in which “she hasn’t had a good game,” by her standards. The true freshman is averaging a team-high 14.8 points and four assists per game, and earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for her performances against Northwestern and Minnesota.
Not that she pays much attention to that.
“She’s a pretty steady kid,” said Washington. “She wins Freshman of the Week and it’s nothing. I think it’s an excellent quality to have as a point guard. She doesn’t get too high with the highs, she doesn’t get too low with the lows. And in the games, you see that.”
Page said she spent “like 10 minutes” being excited about the honors before moving on.
“It was pretty cool, just because it was my first one,” she said. “At the same time, I don’t let it phase me because it’s only for one week and there’s a lot of basketball ahead.”