The No. 8 Lady Lions have put themselves in a good spot, but they can’t start the celebration quite yet.
A 71-56 win over Michigan State on Sunday and some help from around the Big Ten conference have the Lions (20-3, 10-1 Big Ten) sitting in a favorable position to capture their second-straight Big Ten crown.
Even though the Lions are the only one-loss team in the conference, they only hold a two-and-a-half game lead over Purdue and Nebraska. While it seems like coach Coquese Washington’s squad essentially has things wrapped up, the team knows that it still has five games to play on its conference slate.
The Lions also know that in order to obtain their goal of repeating as conference champions, they must continue to play with intensity.
“It’s more of a grind in conference play,” Washington said. “You’ve got to play at a high level for 10, 11 weeks and I think that’s the tougher battle. I don’t think it’s the physical battle, I don’t think it’s the mental battle of showing up every day, showing up to every practice focused and ready to execute and fight through the monotony of the season.”
As the season has progressed, the team has adapted into a weekly routine, Washington said. Most of the Lions’ games are on Sundays and Thursdays, making it a quick turnaround for the team, especially when traveling. Tuesdays are usually practice days and Wednesdays have become travel days, so it’s a constant flow week-in and week-out.
Still, Washington is pleased with how her players have responded 23 games into the season.
As the team prepares to enter the final stretch of their regular season schedule, things don’t look to get any easier from here.
Of the five games remaining for the Lions –– road matchups at Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska and home games against Illinois and Michigan –– all of their opponents have a .600 overall winning percentages or better on the year. Three are tied for fourth or better in the Big Ten. Combined, the squads have above average records (80-39, 30-23 Big Ten) and the Lions know they can not let up, like they did for a few minutes in their win over the Spartans.
“I just feel like we had a mental lapse there, we were up by 19 and they brought it back within nine or 10,” senior guard Alex Bentley said. “We just can’t let that happen, when we get up we have to keep that lead and keep getting after it.”