For a team that has soared to incredible heights this season, it hasn’t always been a walk in the park for the Lady Lions.
In the semifinal loss to unranked Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament, No. 8 Penn State shot 22.4 percent from the floor, its worst offensive showing in 17 years.
This came from a team that shot nearly 61 percent less than three weeks ago — its best field goal percentage since 1996.
Just two weeks from the NCAA Tournament and one week from the tournament selection show, the Lions’ inconsistencies could plague them down the stretch.
Early this season, Penn State was favored for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and was even a dark horse contender for a No. 1 seed, but with three losses to unranked conference opponents, the latter is now very unexpected. A No. 2 seed could pair the Lions with a No. 1 seed in the Elite Eight, which would make the road to the Final Four all the more difficult.
“Well, you can't get too high with highs and can't get too low with lows. Basketball is a game of matchups,” coach Coquese Washington told members of the media after the game, according to a transcript released by BigTen.org. “When you play in conference play, teams are so familiar with you and know your personnel and know the things that you like to do. And you go forward to the NCAA Tournament, you don't know what your matchups are going to be, you don't know anything like that.”
The Lions will have two weeks to recover before the tournament begins. Washington said the team will use the time to rest and get healthy so it can go into the NCAA Tournament with a renewed focus. But senior point guard Alex Bentley said it will be hard getting over the Lions’ upset loss to Michigan State.
“You can't look past a loss,” Bentley said. “We take what we learned from this game and we learn from it and we get better and we use that to move forward.”
Washington said the senior class will guide the squad through the postseason because it will be able to keep the loss to Michigan State in perspective for the entire team.
The Lions are led by co-captain Bentley, who averages 14 points per game and is No. 6 in the nation in steals with 106. The senior leadership extends through the ranks to center Nikki Greene, who is No. 5 in the conference in rebounds, while injured senior co-captain Marisa Wolfe leads from the sidelines.
“I think when you have four, five seniors that we have that have been through so many, have so much experience, I think that will carry us. Certainly our kids are very disappointed right now,” Washington said after the Michigan State loss.
“Certainly [there are] a number of lessons that we can learn and we can apply moving forward, and our kids will do a great job of taking those lessons and going forward with them.”
Along with the senior class, the Lions have been paced offensively by junior guard Maggie Lucas. Lucas is in the midst of her best collegiate season, ranking No. 13 in the nation with 20.5 points per game. She is also No. 4 in the nation in 3-point percentage, shooting 47.5 percent from beyond the arc.
“[Lucas is] a competitor. She's a competitor,” Washington said. “And her drive and her will to win are very, very high. And not just her, the entire team. Our drive and our competitive fire is high.”
Washington said the loss to Michigan State was one she believes they will rebound from and that it was a night where her team played poorly, shot the ball poorly, and did not have good flow on offense.
But she also said is not who they have been all season, so she does not think that is who they will be in the NCAA Tournament.
“I'm confident we'll go into the NCAA Tournament and we'll play better offensively,” Washington said. “I'm confident we'll go in the NCAA Tournament and we'll play better defensively. And you have nights when you just play poorly. It is what it is.”