Sometimes one needs adversity to make good teams, great.
Currently, the Lady Lions are exemplifying that statement.
Monday night, the Lions hung on to beat No. 23 Michigan, 59-49. Yet, if this was still last season, it might have been a game that snuck away from Penn State.
With 7:03 to play, Penn State held a one-point lead to a nagging Michigan team that kept trying to upset the eighth-ranked team in the country, but the Lions prevailed.
In 2011-12, when the Lions had a lead margin of one to three points in at least eight minutes left of the game, they had a record of 5-5; essentially, a toss up.
However, there is a different storyline this year.
The Lions have won three out of four games when they have led by one to three points with at least eight minutes left; it is no longer a toss up.
What has changed? More experience.
“For our seniors and juniors, it’s the things that we’ve been doing for the past two, three years now,” head coach Coquese Washington said. “It’s now becoming second nature, so the rotations are becoming quick. They see things quicker and are able to adjust.”
That ability to adapt has prevented major comebacks from the team’s opponents while also creating opportunities.
In the 17 games the Lions have played this season, a few had a lot of youth including Wisconsin.
After Penn State’s victory against Wisconsin on Jan. 17, Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey was quick to state that her young players were rattled.
Kelsey said that Penn State’s juniors and seniors were able to lull her players into making wrong decisions with the ball and with shooting.
She said it was something that was tough to shake.
One of the big components of the Lions’ game this season has been turning steals into points, as the Lions rank 26th in steals per game with 12.1.
Washington credited her upperclassmen for executing game plans at a higher rate as part of that success.
Senior Alex Bentley is one of those taking their points scored off turnovers to new heights as she is No. 2 in the country in steals per game with 4.13.
The Wooden List Top 20 guard said she loves the execution of that game because it provides a “spark” in her team.
Yet, Washington is quick to say, her team is not perfect.
“They’re teenagers,” Washington said. “You got to remind them of everything, every time. They’re veterans so it clicks in a little quicker. But you [still] have to coach.”
Altogether, these are the juniors and seniors who took a risk on the program, back in its limbo period when Coquese Washington took over.
These are the upperclassmen, which have experienced playing the powerhouse programs like Connecticut and Texas A&M.
These are the veteran leaders, who have been through the heartbreaks and disappointments, such as losing to Connecticut.
For the Lions, they now find themselves with control of first place in the Big Ten.