In the polls, the Big Ten conference may not seem to be the strongest, having only two ranked teams — but Coquese Washington said it might be the most competitive.
The No. 8 Lady Lions currently sit atop the conference standings, a feat which has not come easily.
There have been two games that some would call defining moments in Big Ten play for Penn State this season.
Both of those games, a victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor and the win over No. 13 Purdue just two nights ago, were battles for the top spot in the conference. Penn State handled both to remain the only team with a single loss at the halfway mark in conference play.
Penn State needed to rebound after a 63-61 loss to unranked Wisconsin in Madison last week, which left questions looming if the Lady Lions could recapture the Big Ten title for the second-straight season.
Those questions have since been somewhat erased with the 69-61 victory over the Boilermakers, who won the past five match-ups with the Lions in the Bryce Jordan Center before Monday. Even before the season, Washington said Purdue was the team to watch for in the conference.
“You look at [Purdue’s] record in the conference, they are in second place. They have played a lot of close games, they have played a lot of overtime games,” Washington said last week. “I think that is the mark of a tough team that can play all of those overtime games and close those games out. So I think they are a physically tough team and they seem to be a mentally tough team as well.”
After losing to Wisconsin to drop to 8-1 in the conference , the Lions needed to come back in full force if they still wanted a chance at the conference championship.
“We're very happy about it. It's a good team win,” junior guard Maggie Lucas said. “Purdue is a very, very good team. To come off of that last loss and come into this game prepared and ready to execute, it's a big win for us. We have to keep it at this level and keep improving now.”
Although the Lions currently lead the conference in scoring offense with nearly 73 points per game, hold a 16-point advantage over their opponents and own the top spot in the Big Ten, there are still plenty of chances to be knocked down.
They still have to face Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska who all received votes in the coaches poll this week.
“I still think there are some areas that we can get better in and we have a tough schedule going out,” Washington said. “This is the Big Ten conference, it just doesn’t get easier, you know it just doesn’t get easier.”
The Lions improved to 11-0 at home, but Lucas said they are seeing teams’ best games every night so it will only get tougher.
“I think [winning on the road] is a sign of a very competitive conference, where you can have a team like Illinois that can’t win at home, but they are undefeated on the road,” Washington said. “I think it is a sign of competitive equity that anybody can win on any given night whether they are at home or on the road.”