The State College girls’ basketball team knows this will be a work in progress.
The most important goal for first-year coach Chris Leazier was to see improvement from the season-opener Tuesday to Friday’s game against Harrisburg.
“We obviously play to win, we would have liked to have won because it’s a good Harrisburg team,” Leazier said. “But we did get to see improvement from game one.”
The Lady Little Lions couldn’t hold on in the fourth quarter as the Cougars rallied for a 51-45 win in the State College home opener.
Among the places Leazier was seeking improvement from an opening 56-34 loss to Central Dauphin East was an offense that was a little more patient, along with better defense, rebounding and transitions.
“We had a lot of good steps from our first game,” said senior State College forward Taylor Love, who netted 10 points. “We’re getting more comfortable together. Pretty much a whole new lineup. We’re getting back into the flow of things.”
Maya Bokunewicz led the way with 13 points and seven rebounds, and Kayla Hawbaker added eight points.
Harrisburg was paced by a trio in double digits with 16 points for Ahmya Woodyard, 12 for Dajahnae Brennan and 11 for Kira Merritt.
The Lady Little Lions held an eight-point lead midway through the third quarter and still were up by two at the start of the fourth before hitting a major dry spell. The Cougars took off on a 14-4 run, with all of those State College points from the foul line while missing a dozen straight field goals.
“We definitely hit a dry spell in the fourth quarter, for sure,” Leazier said. “We dried up offensively at a time we needed to be really solid. It just didn’t happen.’
The team got plenty of quality chances, but an unkind rim kept them without a field goal until 38 seconds remained, when Emily Hall finally drilled a 3-pointer.
“We just wore ourselves out a little bit,” Love said. “We needed to calm down, pass it around. We got some good looks, the shots just aren’t falling.”
Harrisburg made 5 of 8 field goals in the quarter, and Woodyard lived at the foul line, making 7 of 11 attempts in the final 1:13.
Down by a point at halftime, State College had a strong run in the first 4:26 of the third quarter with an 11-0 run after Harrisburg scored the opening bucket. The run was capped by a Bokunewicz layup off a Hawbaker steal, and Denaya Poston going coast-to-coast for a bucket and a 29-21 lead.
“We’re still trying to find our mojo offensively,” Leazier said. “I think shooting well is often a function of knowing where the shots are coming from within the offense and knowing where they are about to emerge. We’re not quite there yet.”
In all, State College made just 14 of 56 shots (25 percent), and also had 21 turnovers, having trouble breaking through the Cougars’ full-court pressure.
“We knew that was going to be an issue,” Leazier said. “We did some positive things tonight. ... You want to eliminate turnovers and not give away possessions.”