Lady Lions Lack Consistency As Postseason Looms
In short, Big Ten play has not been kind to Penn State women’s basketball.
The Lady Lions struggled to find their footing in conference play this year, going 4-14 against Big Ten teams. Furthermore, they didn’t win a single game on the road this season and dropped seven games by more than 20 points.
Penn State also lost its last six games of the regular season. Of those games, the team only put up a real fight against Michigan State, a matchup that turned into the Lady Lions’ fourth overtime loss of the year.
Now, the Lady Lions face Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament, a team that swept Penn State this year. Both games were close but were also a lesson on the Lady Lions’ struggles to finish tight games.
After the second loss to Minnesota, head coach Carolyn Kieger repeated three words in her postgame press conference: “toughness and discipline.” Now, Kieger is preaching a similar message as she looks ahead to what may be her team’s last game of the season.
“[We have to get] that confidence back, that juice back,” Kieger said.
Scoring has always been an issue for Penn State. It’s ranked 11th for points per game and 10th in shooting percentage in the Big Ten.
Now, however, defensive issues have popped up. A team that’s averaged above 11 steals per game in the regular season didn’t surpass five steals in any of its past three games.
“We have to defend,” Kieger said after the Lady Lions recorded three steals in the team’s last game against Michigan State. “Obviously, our offense will come when we start getting stops, but our defense has really been our Achilles’ heel down these last six games.”
If the Lady Lions have one bright spot for tournament hopes, it’s Shay Ciezki. The freshman guard dropped 27 points against Michigan State on Saturday, which was her best performance of the season. That followed a 16-point performance against Purdue just three days prior.
Kieger doesn’t just want Ciezki to be a scorer. She expects Ciezki to be a leader, despite her inexperience.
“It’s got to start becoming her team, her voice,” Kieger said. “It isn’t just about the points that Ciezki can score but how she commands the court.
However, Ciezki’s performance brings up some concerns. She simply isn’t the player that the Lady Lions should be looking to as a leader.
That role has typically fallen to senior guard Makenna Marisa, the team’s leading scorer and best two-way player. Marisa has been one of the best players in the Big Ten this season, but that hasn’t necessarily been true in her most recent performances.
Marisa scored a combined 12 points in the Lady Lions’ last two games against Purdue and Michigan State. Against the Spartans, she went 1-of-11 from the field in her worst outing of the season.
Marisa understands her role with the team, as well as her struggles as of late, and hasn’t cut herself any slack.
“I wasn’t doing enough in the first half… I’m not doing enough,” she said after a loss to No. 16 Ohio State.
That self-awareness hasn’t generated on-court results, though. Marisa’s stats have only gotten worse since the Ohio State game.
Still, Kieger has trust in her star. It’s the same trust that she hopes Marisa picks up along the way for herself.
“I’m just trying to keep it in her ears that she’s got this, that she’s one of the best players in the league, and everybody’s got her back and she just got to keep shooting,” Kieger said.
The Lady Lions haven’t advanced out of the first round of the Big Ten Tournament since 2018 when they made a second-round exit to Michigan after beating Illinois. It enters as the No. 13 seed, the second-lowest seed in the tournament. Despite the long odds, Ciezki is focused on taking games one at a time.
“We’re just going to keep plugging forward, getting these wins in the Big Ten Tournament,” Ciezki said. “It’s all we’re looking for right now.”
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