Although it is December, to the Lady Lions, it may feel like March.
The postseason is still three months down the road, but Penn State is already getting a taste of March Madness caliber opponents.
The tough non-conference slate for No. 11/10 Penn State that coach Coquese Washington said proved challenging, yet effective as she sees many opportunities for improvement in the coming weeks before Big Ten play beginning in January.
Two probable NCAA tournament-bound opponents, No. 2 Connecticut and ACC stud No. 21/23 Miami (Fl.) handed the Lions their first two losses of the season, both coming on the road. Despite two losses, Penn State defeated No. 23/25 Texas A&M in College Station, which aside from Connecticut was arguably the squads toughest match up.
But the difficult road tests are not over for the Lions who play in Blacksburg, Va. tonight facing another ACC opponent, Virginia Tech. Last season Penn State handled Virginia Tech easily last season 66-28 with Maggie Lucas putting up 20 points.
“We knew we had some tough non-conference road games and we wanted to just perform well and I thought for the most part we had performed well even though we didn’t win the game,” Washington said. “I liked the way that we fought in all of our road games, I’ve liked the way that we have been competitive in all of our games.”
In the 97-74 victory over Georgetown on Sunday, Washington said that the pace of her teams’ game was the best it had been all year. The Lions had nine steals and 29 rebounds in the first half, which is something they will need to bring to a competitive Hokie squad.
“Sometimes we get off to a little bit of a slow start, get down. I think the pace we started with against Georgetown is something we should really look to build on for Virginia Tech and the rest of the season,” Dara Taylor said.
The Hokies average just over 50 points per game where the Lions average nearly 77, Penn State also out rebounds Virginia Tech per game averaging 44.2 compared to 34.9. But Mia Nickson said she is not underestimating the ACC squad.
“I know they play really hard, they don’t give up. We are expecting their best and we hope to counter it,” Nickson said.
Lucas is coming off a career-high scoring game, netting 39 points against Georgetown and now averages nearly 23 points per game. Although Lucas nearly doubles Virginia Tech’s leading scorer, Monet Tellier, Washington said they are going to have to pay a lot of attention to her.
“Virginia Tech has a really good player in Monet Tellier, she is playing good basketball and does it in a variety of ways,” Washington said. “They rely on her a lot to score points and generate offense for them.”