By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It all started in Europe with a preseason trip overseas and included a plane ride to the west coast for a tournament in Northridge, Ca. and a flight to Miami, Fla.
On top of that, the No. 11 Lady Lions played No. 2 Connecticut and No. 13 Texas A&M, both on the road, in a three week span. Through all of that, head coach Coquese Washington and her team have benefited greatly from a tough road non-conference slate that was completed after a 60-41 win over Virginia Tech.
"It is going to help us tremendously," said Washington. "We have had to get better quickly and focus on the fundamentals of our game. It has shown us the areas that we are not quite as tight in and we have to (improve) before conference play."
Granted any team has a multitude of areas they can always improve on, but Washington highlighted offensive execution and defensive consistency as the areas the road tests have shown room for improvement in.
The Lady Lions went 3-2 in their non-conference road games and 8-2 overall with two games remaining before their Big Ten opener against Northwestern Jan. 3.
"Our schedule was tough," said assistant coach Fred Chimel. "It wasn't easy. We played a lot of NCAA (tournament) caliber teams and that's one thing we can take and expand with."
Games against a team like Connecticut, that is a favorite to make another Final Four appearance, or an opponent like Miami (Fla.), that is climbing its way through the Top 25, allows Penn State to learn from two tough road losses and apply them to the hostile environments they will play in as the season progresses.
"It will be a good thing for us later in the season," said guard Maggie Lucas. "You could end up anywhere in the NCAA tournament and we will be prepared for that."
The variety of styles the Lady Lions have faced on the gives them a unique opportunity to have competed under a wide number of scenarios before the dog days of February and March begin.
"All of the teams we have seen gave us something different," said guard Dara Taylor. "We have seen a lot of different defenses and offenses and I think it's really going to help us in conference play and in the tournament."
For Washington, she wants her team to get better as the season progresses, but would like her team to reach a consistency level that they can establish and set as a standard for the type of basketball they need to play to win game in and game out.
"In a nutshell, what it comes down to is getting better as a team," said Washington. "When we are playing good basketball we have to condition ourselves to make those stretches longer so that we are controlling and dominating the game for the majority of the game."
The Lady Lions will host South Dakota State on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center and NJIT on Dec. 23 before the Big Ten opener on Jan. 3 against Northwestern.