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Nov. 20, 2013
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coquese Washington knew that the 2013-14 season would be a work in progress for her No. 14/15 ranked Lady Lions. However, three games into the season and following a 71-52 loss to No. 1 Connecticut, Washington is pleased with her team's progression.
In fact, the seventh year head coach is surprised with where her team is at two weeks into the season.
"Because of how young we are I thought we would be way farther than we are right now," Washington said. "In some ways, I'm pleased simply because we are just slightly off. I think we just need more game experience to tighten that up."
Despite a poor shooting performance against the Huskies and falling short in a valiant comeback effort in the second half, Washington believes having the game against the No. 1 team in the country just three games into the season is a positive.
With games against No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 13 Texas A&M in December the Lady Lions will be able to go back to the Connecticut game and gather what can be corrected or improved the next time they see a perennial powerhouse. More importantly, just three games into their careers, Washington's freshman were able to get a feel for the competitiveness of a postseason game and atmosphere.
"It was an NCAA tournament type game," Washington said. "The caliber of play and the crowd and it being on TV, that's what it's like in the NCAA Tournament and in the Big Ten Tournament so we have to get ready to do that in March.
"They've had this experience early and what we can learn is that we are going to have this experience again and we have to learn how to respond."
Part of this progression is piecing together a top to bottom consistent performance on the floor, which is something the Lady Lions haven't had yet. In their first two games Penn State received a spark from guards Ariel Edwards and Dara Taylor. Sunday against Connecticut it was the bigs of Penn State in Talia East and Tori Waldner.
East notched eight points and 10 rebounds and Waldner added 11 and seven, respectively. Considering it came against perhaps the best front line in the country with Stefanie Dolson, Breanna Stewart and Kiah Stokes, Waldner and East have a lot to take away from their performances.
Additionally, the guards have more confidence after seeing a strong performance from their teammates on the inside.
"It definitely helps out a great deal. I was proud of the way Tori, Talia and Candice [Agee] played in the game against UConn," said senior captain Ariel Edwards. "It is going to help us in the long run because any time you have post players that can put the ball in the basket it takes pressure off the guards. It's an exciting thing."
The tricky thing for Washington is how she goes about piecing it together between guard play and post play which goes back to her being pleased with where her team currently sits.
Although there are inconsistencies, they are minor issues, nothing that brings a cause for concern heading into another non-conference battle with Bucknell on Wednesday.
"We are just a hair off and not quite as tight as we want to be," said Washington. "I think we need more experience to tighten that up. We just need to have everyone playing well at the same time and understand how to work together in game situations."
Game situations are where Washington believes the improvement will come from because of her team's youth. With freshman, everything changes when the lights turn on and there is an opponent on the court. The only way to groom her players into getting comfortable with that is by playing.
Because of that, a game like Wednesday's contest against Bucknell is important to build confidence and gain comfort.
"For us to establish ourselves individually and as a team, we need to beat people and show people what we can do," Waldner said.
The Lady Lions will have that opportunity Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the Bison at the Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State is 12-0 all-time against Bucknell.