The No. 8 Lady Lions have finally begun to put into practice the age old saying “offense wins games, defense wins championships.”
Between Maggie Lucas averaging 20.5 points per game and Alex Bentley’s 12.2 points per game the offense has rarely struggled. But until the victory over Michigan State last Sunday, the Lions defense did not seem to fit that of a top 10 caliber of a team.
Rebounding and transition hurt the squad last season, but assistant coach Fred Chmiel said against Michigan State the defense was focused, took care of business, executed the game plan and had excellent energy and communication.
Although the Lions faced some of the nation’s premier teams in their non-conference schedule, the Big Ten will be no easy test. Sitting on a 12-2 overall record and an undefeated Big Ten register the squad will face its toughest conference opponent yet in Nebraska on Sunday.
The Lions are coming off perhaps their most complete game of the season defensively and will need to be sharp in order to stop the Huskers potent scoring duo of Jordan Hooper and Lindsey Moore.
“Throughout this season I think there has been blocks that we played top 10 basketball and I think that block was extended through the Michigan State game,” Chmiel said.
The Lions and the Huskers split 1-1 last season with Nebraska claiming the victory first on the road. But Ariel Edwards said that this season they want to set a precedent and make sure that people know we are a different team, a better team.
“[Nebraska is a] very good team with two very good players. Last year that was probably the focal point, those two good players. Now they added some other pieces, got some experience and added a freshman to the starting lineup as well,” Chmiel said.
Although it will largely be an offensive battle between the Lions who average 74.4 points per game and the Huskers average 69.9, strong defense will be the tipping point.
“I think we had to get tighter in our defensive principles and I think that really showed in the Michigan State game with our team defense. We are still going to make mistakes, but we really worked hard to make recoveries and communicate out of those mistakes,” Lucas said. “[For Nebraska], just like the Michigan State game it is going to be team defense.”
The statistics of the Lions and Huskers nearly mirror each other across the board, so Penn State will have to keep its defense sharp.
“They are a scary offensive team for sure. Those first two are capable of making some big shots down stretches, so you have to feel like you have a comfortable lead,” Chmiel said. “But I am impressed with them offensively, their transition game is incredible, the guards rebounding and push out early, so you have to hold them up. The posts push, so it will be up and down and it will be exciting.”