Pushing the pace, pressure defense and quick hands are what it is going to take for the No. 7 Lady Lions to claim their 19th straight home victory tonight.
Penn State (21-3, 11-1 Big Ten) will take on an Illinois (15-9, 8-4 Big Ten) team that has gone 6-2 on the road this season, winning at Ohio State, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and has averaged the second-most points in the Big Ten — behind only Penn State.
It will also be a battle between two of the top five scorers in the conference as junior guard Maggie Lucas will be up against senior forward Karisma Penn, who average 19.8 and 18.9 points per game, respectively.
Penn should also give Nikki Greene a competition on the boards as she averages nearly two more rebounds per game than Greene, who both rank in the top five in Big Ten rebounders as well.
“Illinois is a tough matchup. They are having a wonderful season,” coach Coquese Washington said. “They pretty much start four guards with [Adrianne] GodBold pretty much starting in the four and then they have Karisma Penn at the five who is having a fantastic season, a walking double-double.”
The Lions have had to rely on their defense this season with the loss of starter Zhaque Gray to graduation, who averaged nearly 11 points per game last season. But the addition of transfer redshirt junior guard Dara Taylor has given Penn State the speed their defense needed.
Senior point guard Alex Bentley and Taylor have increased the steals as the Lions are just 19 away from passing last season’s number of 302. Bentley has become the fourth player in school history with 300 steals and is currently eighth on the NCAA’s Division I career active leaders list for assists and steals.
“We have to definitely make sure we can do a good job defensively on her and not let her get loose and get going. Adrienne GodBold is a great rebounder, so we have to make sure we keep her off the boards,” Washington said. “…They don’t play a lot of people so they kind of like a slower place, even though they will get up and press and trap and those kind of things. But they kind of like a little bit of a slower pace so we are going to have to make sure it is a faster paced game and our size has to be a factor as well.”
Although the Illini are one of the top scoring teams in the nation, Washington said that her team is in the best position in the Big Ten as they have a three game lead over No. 24 Nebraska.
“We are in a good spot [in the conference]. The great spot that we are in is that it is all about us, we don’t have to hope that this team loses or this team gets a big upset,” Washington said. “It is on us, we can focus on Penn State doing what we need to do to win the Big Ten title. So it is all on us and I like being in that position, as long as we take care of our business we should be in good shape.”
This Penn State team has largely relied on the veteran leadership, but the lone freshman Candice Agee said that she feels she is fitting into the system well and that she is eager to see what the postseason brings for her squad.
“The system is very down pat and it is very precise, you have to change yourself and you have to grow and mature a little bit, but everybody has to do that coming in,” Agee said. “The system has really been treating me very well and I am very excited for the postseason, for the rest of our season and for the [Illinois game].”
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