Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since the Lady Lions were eliminated from the 2012 NCAA tournament at the hands of powerhouse Connecticut, Coquese Washington's squad knew they would have a chance at revenge in non-conference play in December. After a 6-1 start, the No. 10 Lady Lions (6-1) will travel to historic Gampel Pavilion on Thursday to play the No. 2 ranked Huskies (7-0) in a top ten match up.
Thursday brings a chance for Penn State to have another shot at Geno Auriemma's team that beat No. 9 ranked Maryland 63-48 on Tuesday. In the mind of senior Nikki Greene, a win for the Lady Lions would prove that they can play with the best.
"We are capable of beating anyone in the nation and beating Connecticut would definitely bring a lot of attention to Penn State," said Greene. "The nation would know that we are not just a team that is ranked, we are a team that can play with the best."
How exactly do the Lady Lions go about beating a team that is a preseason pick to reach the final four and returns key components from last years team? First look back on the Sweet 16 game and see what can be fixed and improved upon.
"The biggest thing we learned is that we have to play with a calmness," said Washington. "We were really fired up to play and didn't play with a calmness that you have to have so you can execute."
With Mia Nickson returning from injury after missing one game with a strained muscle and the addition of Dara Taylor into the starting lineup, nothing will hold back the speedy team except themselves.
Although Washington has two of the faster guards in the conference, speed is still a category that she wants her team to pick up and, along with defensive intensity, will determine what side of the box score her team falls on at Connecticut on Thursday and vs. Georgetown at home on Sunday.
"I don't think we are playing fast enough," said Washington. "I would like us to get up and down the floor more and play at a faster pace."
How do you play faster with two already fast guards?
"We have to run," Washington laughed. "I am not joking. We have to run every time and have to be more mindful of it."
Execution offensively and defensively against a deep and lengthy Connecticut team are important for the Lady Lions if they want to notch another resume building non-conference road win against a ranked opponent.
"It will be a good experience for the team as a whole," said guard Maggie Lucas. "We are going to be in a lot of tough environments, so it is nice to have these games early on."
With tough road contests in conference play looming, including Ohio State and Michigan State, getting a win in Storrs could provide the rhythm Penn State needs as non-conference play winds down.
Washington hopes that wins against the Huskies and the Hoyas can develop a sense of rhythm for her team and continue to build chemistry as the fall semester winds down for her student-athletes. This rhythm and experience will play dividends for her team when tournament play rolls around in March.
"It is absolutely going to make us a very good road team by the time we get into post-season play because we will have been to some of the best venues to play in the country against some of the best teams in the country and that should bode well for us come tournament time," said Washington.
As for the revenge part of it, Taylor had to sit on the bench due to transfer rules while she saw the Huskies advance to the Elite Eight a year ago and she wants to do nothing but remove that image from her mind.
"A couple of us have a sour taste in our mouth from last year," said Taylor. "I didn't get to play last year, but I want to go out there and get a shot at them."