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By Mike Gilbert, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Things are getting busy for the Lady Lions from here on out, as a two-game road trip will be played this week, followed by two more conference games before the Big Ten tournament. The team will be busy this week, traveling to go play at Northwestern Wednesday night, before coming back to State College until Friday, when they will travel to Ann Arbor to face Michigan.
With four regular season games left to go, the Blue and White have turned up the intensity and level of play, recently playing great stretches of basketball including a great win on the road against Michigan State and a near victory against top-ten team in Ohio State. That stretch could have the team excited to play in the Big Ten tournament, but according to assistant coach Kia Damon, there is still much to be done in the regular season.
"We know [the Big Ten tournament is] on the horizon, but we haven't given a lot of time talking about it with the team," she said. "There's so much still to be settled in the conference in terms of seeding and things of that nature, so I firmly believe a lot of this will come down for a lot of teams to literally the last regular season game of the season, solidifying seeds and really knowing where you stand."
Certainly, seeding is extremely important in the all-important conference tournament, so the fact that Penn State is playing good basketball with just four games left in conference play is also an important factor going down the stretch. Fifth-year senior Brianna Banks knows the importance of the final few conference contests.
"We are focusing on one game at a time, but everything's for a bigger purpose. It is in the back of our minds that the Big Ten tournament is something that we really want. It's a goal of ours. But we also know we have to win each game to get there," said Banks.
One of the big perks of winning the final games down the stretch is getting a first round bye in the tournament.
"We want to play Thursday not Wednesday," added Banks.
It starts with Northwestern who, like Penn State, has markedly improved over the course of the season.
"We just continue to keep it simple. Practices are maybe an hour if that, so we want to save our legs. But, we just focus on what teams are doing and a team like Northwestern, even if their record doesn't reflect it, they're playing really well right now," said assistant coach Itoro Coleman.
After the Ohio State game, the team got a needed day off. Tuesday during practice, the focus was on half court defense and offense, but rest at this time of year is crucial. After traveling to Northwestern, the squad will head back for classes Thursday and Friday, then leave Friday for Michigan. After that, it is senior night against Iowa, then a road game versus Indiana. That stretch closes out the regular season before the Big Ten tournament.
"We just want to be playing our best basketball and we've put a lot of emphasis on suring up our defense, and if you look at the past couple of games, we've held our opponents below their scoring averages and we've turned up our defensive intensity and energy. We really just want to be playing at our best and were pleased with the progress were making," said Damon.
Playing good basketball is never a bad thing with four regular season games remaining until conference tournament time.