By Tom Shively,
GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State women's basketball is playing the best that it has all season, rattling off three straight wins in conference play.
The streak started with a road win at Wisconsin, the first road win in conference play for the Lady Lions this season. But it was the two wins at home, the final-second victory over Rutgers and the consistent performance in the win over Illinois, that really have the Lady Lions hitting their stride at the right time.
With a daunting stretch of four of their next five games on the road, the Lady Lions picked up some much-needed momentum in the last two games.
"Winning road games in the Big Ten is really tough," head coach Coquese Washington said. "Everyone in our conference seems to play pretty well at home because of the crowds we get and it makes those road games challenging. If we can continue to take advantage of some of these games at home, that'll be really good for us."
The Lady Lions understand the edge the crowd gives them. The game itself doesn't change at all, but the fact that they have the support of the fans behind them is something they cherish and use to their benefit, a benefit that has led the team to a 9-2 record in the Bryce Jordan Center this season.
"I don't think we do anything differently in terms of execution, but our crowd is definitely a factor," Washington said. "They give us an extra boost of adrenaline and they're loud and supportive. We love playing at home and it's worth something to us."
The crowd certainly has had an influence over the last two games, especially in the win over Rutgers. The Lady Lions trailed in the final seconds, but Teniya Page, one of the top scorers in the Big Ten, hit four of five clutch free throws after being fouled on a three coupled with a Rutgers technical foul with one second remaining.
Page, after missing time early in the year due to injury, has come on strong, averaging 26 points in her last two games. She put up a season-high 34 in the Rutgers win, and she has been the catalyst to the team's winning ways at home.
"When you look at highly successful teams, they have one or two players that are capable of being better than the defense," Washington said. "They just make plays sometimes that are better than the defense. It's not like the defense is bad, they're just capable of making tremendous offensive plays."
Washington likened Page to some famous NBA players who have been known to put teams on their backs in the final minutes, such as Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and Stephen Curry.
"Teniya is one of those players," Washington said. "To have a player like that in the last few minutes of a game and confidence in that we're at least going to have a shot whether she makes it or not. She proved once again that when the stakes are high, she can come through."
Page isn't the only one capable of taking over a game though, as her backcourt mate Amari Carter showed her ability to lead this team at the beginning of the season as well as continuing her high level of play in the time since then.
"Amari is turning into a player that can make big plays for us in critical moments," Washington said. "She's still learning how she fits that into her game. Teniya is a little more familiar with that role being a year older, but to have two players that you can put the ball in their hands and they'll make plays, it's really a luxury."
Sophomore Jaida Travascio-Green has come into her own as well, hitting clutch 3-pointers all season and helping the Lady Lions in tight games to get the needed boost to propel them to victory.
"She's a very confident shooter and she's absolutely right [about everyone on the team believing her shot will go in when she takes an open three]," Washington said. "The entire team and coaching staff has tremendous confidence in her as a shooter. It doesn't matter to us if she misses a couple shots, we're all going to keep screaming at her to keep shooting and try to find her when she's open beyond the three-point line. She had two big threes late in that game last week against Rutgers that really helped propel us to the win."
The Lady Lions are now 4-4 in conference play, and right in the middle of the Big Ten standings. However, there's still plenty of time left in the season and the conference landscape still has plenty of time to take shape.
"We're not focused on standings at all or what a game means in that respect," Washington said. "We just want to focus on playing the best we can and trying to be successful any given night."
Next up for the Lady
- a Purdue: Sunday, Jan.
28 at 12 p.m.
- at Ohio State:
Wednesday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m.