By Tom Shively,
GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This week is not your typical road trip for Penn State women's basketball, as the team travels across the country to Las Vegas for the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout this Friday and Saturday.
This week provides the Lady Lions with not only a chance to see a different part of the country, but also adjust to life on the road for an extended period of time in an unfamiliar area.
The four-day trip allows the team to come together as a unit so early in the season, an opportunity that doesn't come around very often but is so critical to a team's success.
"It's a great trip in terms of chemistry," sophomore guard Amari Carter said. "It allows us to be comfortable traveling across time zones like we will later in the season and also allows us to connect of the court, in the hotel, out in the city, wherever that may be."
There is one contrast from the rest of the season in that the Las Vegas climate is very different than the one the Lady Lions will see in University Park and around the Big Ten, but the team looks at it as an opportunity to relax (at least before their games start) for a couple of days out in the warm weather.
"It's good to get away, out in the fun and sun," head coach Coquese Washington said. "We're getting some much-needed rest as well. We've played five games in 12 days so far, and it's put a lot of miles on their legs. Mentally, this is a chance to recover and relax."
As for the games themselves, to be played at South Point Arena (just south of the main strip), the Lady Lions will certainly be tested against two of the better programs in the country.
Louisiana Tech has long been a respected name in women's college basketball, reaching 13 Final Fours and winning three national championships in their storied history. As for Kansas State, the Wildcats have been a mainstay in the top 25 in the last 10 years and have always contended in the Big 12.
"This competition prepares them for different styles that they don't usually see in the Big Ten," Washington said.
The format is also something not usually seen during the regular season, as playing on back-to-back days presents a unique challenge to the team.
"It's definitely a precursor for postseason games," Washington said. "We're going to have to play back-to-back games in the Big Ten Tournament, and this provides us with an opportunity to get used to doing that. It helps in the NCAA Tournament as well, as the format is structured with sets of two games in three days."
This kind of trip this early in the season has been critical for the freshmen, as they are still adjusting to the college basketball life and are not really used to traveling long distances with the team. It has led to them becoming closer with the team and more comfortable with themselves.
"They're all getting adjusted to their roles and the expectations for them on this team," Washington said. "I've been impressed with them so far, but this is an incredible opportunity for them to grow."
"They've made all kinds of strides," Carter said. "They're comfortable seeing game action again and, more importantly, they're becoming comfortable with the team and each other. They jump right in there, playing hard even if they don't always know exactly what's going on. But they're never afraid to ask questions and always willing to learn."
"I'm definitely talking a lot more, directing traffic better," Carter said. "It's been a transition for sure as the leader of this team, but I'm confident in where I'm at right now."
"We put a lot of pressure on our point guards," Washington said. "Amari has more than risen to the occasion, taking control and ownership over this young team. She's been an integral part of our success so far."
The Lady Lions hope that the success that carried them to a 5-0 record so far in this young season will continue this weekend for a couple of quality wins.