By Brian McLaughlin, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Any team that finds success in basketball cannot rely on just its guards or forwards to get the job done in every facet of the game.
The Penn State Lady Lions are a guard heavy team this season, with a lot of the team's strength lying in speed and shooting from the perimeter. With different contributions inside and some lineup changes from head coach Coquese Washington, the team is hoping to maximize their strengths while maintaining balance on the floor.
"It's really important and we talk about floor spacing and balancing the floor, and I think when we do that it's easier for us to see each other and find the open person," Washington said. "It forces the defense to make decisions with who to guard and who to leave open.
Coming off a week where the Lady Lions went 1-1, suffering a loss to the high scoring Minnesota Golden Gophers, while beating Wisconsin who remains winless in the Big Ten.
It was a tale of two games for the Lady Lions, who struggled from behind the arc against Minnesota, shooting only 6-of-23 from distance. They rebounded nicely against the Badgers connecting on 12 3-pointers.
"Nothing in terms of preparation was different between those two games. Against Minnesota the ball didn't fall and against Wisconsin it did. That's all there is too it," Washington said.
Against Wisconsin, sophomore guard Amari Carter had a particularly effective outing, finishing with 21 points, 15 of which came from three.
"Just taking my time on my shot has really helped me. And, taking the easy shot and the open shot," Carter said. "I think Jaida (Travascio-Green) did a really good job last game of stretching the defense and knocking down threes. People always shade to her because she is such a dynamic shooter, leaving lots of space for me to shoot."
In both matchups last week, Washington tweaked her lineup to feature four guards with just one forward, moving De'Janae Boykin to the center position.
"Against both Minnesota and Wisconsin, the opponents style of play kind of necessitated that we go to a smaller and quicker lineup to matchup with them," Washington said. "It's even more important that we have that flow and balance when we have that small lineup on the floor."
This puts some pressure on the lone forward in the game for the Lady Lions to control the paint and collect rebounds. Both Boykin and Jaylen Williams have been forces in the paint so far this season and have their own effect on the offense especially creating shots for their teammates.
"We have a pretty fast-paced team, so when I can run the floor [the defense] get worried about me inside getting an easy layup and it opens up other shot opportunities in transition for our our guards," Williams said.
With the lineup change Washington hopes she can continue to get her team to play at a quick pace and take advantage of their strong guard play.
"It's one of those things where we bring speed to that position with a fourth guard and it gives us a ball handler at that position," Washington said. "It just gives us more weapons and opportunities out on the floor."
This is still quite the adjustment for the team, where it becomes even more vital for each player to crash the boards. However, when this lineup is clicking the effect is obvious with a high pace game and lots of open shots for Carter, Travascio-Green, and Teniya Page. This does mean even more responsibilities inside for the likes of Williams, Boykin, Sam Breen and Alisia Smith.
"When there's just one forward on the court it's a little more difficult at times but it means you ave to work harder," Williams said. "I just feel like we have to be more of a presence since there is only one forward in there."
"I've always been a big defensive presence so I feel that I need to be strong on defense and bring that to the table to make up for not being able to shoot as well from [3-point range] offensively," she added. "I do my part on defense they do their part on offense and we work together."
What Washington is trying to accomplish is define her team's style of play with the slight twist to the starting five. It is vital however that there remains a balanced force between the forwards and guards as they play off one another. Each player brings a different skill set to the table. Putting all the skills together can be difficult, but the outcome is a quality basketball team.