Penn State's Maggie Lucas is helped to her feet in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Connecticut.
By Mark Dent / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When the basketball careened off the same courtside advertisement after an errant pass for the second possession in a row, you could tell something wasn't right with the Penn State women's offense.
"We didn't run our offense all the way through," senior guard Maggie Lucas said. "We tried to do things that weren't there."
The Nittany Lions lost to Connecticut Sunday, 71-52. While few -- if any -- teams will defeat the No. 1 Huskies this year, the disjointedness of No. 15 Penn State's offense was evident. Lucas described it as helter-skelter. Turnovers like the ones noted above were the norm, and a strong defensive effort, particularly in the first half, was nullified.
The Lady Lions (2-1) might not have won, but they could have avoided being down by double digits the majority of the game because Connecticut wasn't playing to its optimal level on offense, either. In the first half the Huskies turned the ball over more times than Penn State (11 to 10).
It was sloppy, early season college basketball, and coach Coquese Washington was able to quickly diagnose the cause for Penn State's struggles: Her team is young. Besides Lucas, a senior who has played as much high-level basketball as anyone in the country, and Talia East, Penn State's players are either just beginning their college careers or are assuming larger roles after much of the Nittany Lions' veteran roster graduated last year.
For the past three seasons, Lucas played with Nikki Greene and Alex Bentley, forming a sturdy triumvirate. Washington hasn't seen new chemistry develop yet this season and doesn't expect it to until later.
"I saw a lot of inexperience and hesitation and indecisiveness, and that leads to inefficiencies and ineffectiveness, especially on the offensive end," she said. "As the girls said, you need the experience so we like playing these kinds of games because it shows us a lot about ourselves."
On Sunday, Penn State traded baskets with Connecticut for the first few minutes before the Huskies opened up the game with a 16-2 run. They led, 37-22, at halftime and Penn State was able to carve the lead down to nine in the second half but never came close to really scaring Connecticut.
Senior Bria Hartley led Connecticut with 29 points. She also defended Lucas. In the first half, Lucas scored just four points on 1 of 7 shooting. In the second half, she scored 14 points, giving her 18 for the game. She had been averaging 28 in Penn State's first two games.
In finishing strong in the second half, Lucas proved her consistency. That's something Washington wants to see elsewhere on this team, which shot 30 percent for the game and turned the ball over 20 times. It will take time.
As much as she can try to aid in its development through practice, Washington said the only way for a team to become experienced and learn how to best play together is through games. They need to be use to big crowds and tough opponents.
Connecticut, obviously, is as tough as any. And whatever Penn State learned Sunday can be used to aid the team as it attempts to grow over the coming months.
"The best positive is it's Nov. 17, and we have 28, 29 games to play," Washington said.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.
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