UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Coquese Washington remembers the pain from coaching last year’s Big Ten tournament semifinal loss to Michigan State. She joked that the game set women’s college basketball back 30 years.
It was an ugly one. Penn State lost, 54-46, and it underlined a problem for a program that has been so successful the past several years. Despite being the top seed the past two years in the Big Ten tournament, Penn State has not advanced to the final.
It comes into this year’s tournament with the same seed, having won its third consecutive Big Ten regular-season title. Will this year be different? Penn State (22-6, 13-3) opens tournament play at noon today against Ohio State (16-17, 5-11) in a quarterfinal.
Senior guard Maggie Lucas said she tries to approach these lose-and-you’re-out games the way she would any other game.
But Penn State, as good as it has been in the regular season, hasn’t excelled under these circumstances — in the Big Ten or NCAA tournaments. It has advanced to one Big Ten title game under Washington (in 2010) and made it out of the second round of the NCAA tournament once since she became coach in 2007.
Washington said part of the difficulty in the Big Ten tournament has been adjusting to teams with diverse styles. Another factor is fatigue. Late in the season, playing on consecutive days can take its toll, especially in recent years with Penn State getting most of its scoring from two or three primary players.
Coming into this tournament, Washington is impressed with the way her team has continued to improve. After not-too-close losses to top teams like Notre Dame and Connecticut, Penn State began to stabilize and its young lineup adjusted to playing with each other. Penn State won the Big Ten, Lucas was named the conference player of the year and guard Dara Taylor was named defensive player of the year.
Now the Lady Lions are back at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, hoping the outcome of the Big Ten tournament will finally be different.
“I think the semifinal game might be harder to play in than the championship game because that’s, I think, the more pressure-filled game because you want to get to the final,” Washington said. “I don’t know. We just have to figure it out.”
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.