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By Brian McLaughlin, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With just five games left in Big Ten play, the Penn State Lady Lions may be hitting their stride at the right time after playing one of their most complete games of the season on Super Bowl Sunday against Michigan State.
The Spartans entered the matchup tied with the Lady Lions in the Big Ten standings but constant pressure from Penn State caused 20 Michigan State turnovers. This allowed Penn state to get out and run in transition and play at the quick pace they much prefer over a slower half-court game.
"We work a lot in practice on scoring in the first six seconds once we get a rebound or steal so I think that really showed against Michigan State," sophomore guard Jaida Travascio-Green said. "We do try to get up and down and we do get a lot of steals so then our guards try to get out and get wide and we have a lot of options from there."
The defense clearly came to play against the Spartans as a half-court trap flustered the visitors providing plenty of opportunities for steals and deflections. On the year, there have been a variety of players for the Lady Lions to make an impact on the defensive side, and head coach Coquese Washington says they all bring something different to the table.
"Siyeh (Frazier) uses her speed and quickness to do a good job pressuring on ball. Amari (Carter) uses her athleticism and length to get into passing lanes, jumping gaps and getting steals kind of off the ball. Teniya (Page) is a really good off the ball defender too, she is more likely to pick up a charge or reach in and get a steal or deflection off the big so they all impact the game in their own way," Washington said. "Amari and Teniya are really good rebounding guards, against Michigan State they both had five or six rebounds apiece. I think they've had games where they've had eight or nine boards. When you have guards that can get in and attack the boards like that, it can be huge for us."
The depth on the defensive side has given Washington quite the arsenal defensively this season and has allowed to switch defenses at will. She also tries to adjust based on how she thinks they can limit other team's strengths.
"It mostly comes down to what I think we can do successfully. So you can watch a team play, like you can watch Michigan State play Minnesota, and Minnesota may have had some success on defense but can you do the same thing with your team and your personnel," Washington said. "So we have some things to work on and try to figure out which one of our defense which will be best to utilize against our next opponent."
Frazier specifically was all over the court against Michigan State, tying a season high in points with 14 and adding two steals. She was often a part of the traps that forced the turnovers with point guard Amari Carter.
"I'm not really big so I use my length on the defensive side and I have really long arms. Just getting in passing lanes, making the person on offense takes tough shots," Carter said. "Then you have Siyeh with the speed and quick hands. She is a great defender. We all just try to be disruptive on the defensive end as much as we can."
Frazier knows she brings a lot to the team defensively but just tries to play whatever role is asked of her. She has played anywhere from the point-guard to the forward position this year and has been in and out of the starting lineup due to injuries early in the season for teammates such as Teniya Page.
"I just try to maintain a versatile mindset, like sometimes coach wants me at the four position when we go small, or maybe sometimes I will be bringing the ball up. I just try to stay versatile and be able to fill any role to help my team win," Frazier said.
With just five games remaining in regular season Big Ten play, the Lady Lions are hoping to be able to maintain this momentum moving forward, with each game providing a different challenge.
"The one thing about the Big Ten is it's not a one size fits all conference, there are so many different mentalities and so many different approaches because we have really good post players like for Michigan State. We are going to play Iowa and Gustafson is having an MVP caliber year," Washington said. "You play Ohio State and Kelsey Mitchell is almost unguardable so every team kind of has different aspects which makes them tough. So it's hard to go into our conference and say we are just going to do one thing and that's going to guard every team in our conference well. You have to be able to switch things up because there is so much variety and styles in the Big Ten."
While styles change, Travascio-Green's mindset remains the same with what she thinks the team needs to do defensively.
"We just take it game by game and work on the different defenses specifically in practice before a game," Travascio-Green said. "We know how to guard everything because we know how to guard different actions from all sorts of different styles."
The high defensive pressure can lead to offense as well, as Penn State outscored the Spartans 14-3 on fast break points Sunday, and nobody knows this better than Amari Carter who operates the offense from the point-guard position.
"Defense leads to offense so speeding up the other teams and making them make tough passes leads to us getting out on the break and then just coming back down and getting another steal and keep that cycle going is fun."
The fun is starting to pick up for the Lady Lions, but Washington really wants to see her team pick up a big road win before the regular season can come to a close. If they are to get that road win the defensive pressure and dictating pace will likely play a huge part. The Lady Lions know what has to be done to get that win.
"I think we've pretty much figured out what we want to do and I think we've known what we want to do for a while," Carter said. "It's just executing it and doing it consistently is a big thing for us as we get closer to postseason play."