- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Michael Laurila, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 25, 2012
When the Michigan women’s basketball team traveled to State College on Jan. 12 to play then-No. 25 Penn State, the result was a 78-63 loss. It wasn’t the Wolverines' night, according to junior guard Jenny Ryan.
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But this Thursday, exactly two weeks later, Michigan will look to avenge the loss when the 22nd-ranked Nittany Lions travel to Ann Arbor.
The biggest difference in the upcoming game will be the Wolverines’ home-court advantage. Michigan enters the game undefeated at home, compared to its mediocre 5-4 away record.
Both teams are riding streaks that started after the first showdown. Penn State has a four-game win streak since the win, and since Michigan lost, it has won three straight.
“We’ve played them and we recognize what they’re good at, and they’ve played us and they recognize what we’re good at it,” said Michigan coach Kevin Borseth. “Now we have to go back and adjust the game plan and make some things change from last game.”
One aspect of the game that the Wolverines will definitely need to change is their defense of Penn State sophomore guard Maggie Lucas. Lucas has averaged 19.6 points per game this season but scored 22 against Michigan.
“We have to really defend Lucas,” said junior forward Nya Jordan. “If we can stop her, they’ll have to find another way to beat us, because right now, she’s pretty much leading their team.”
Added Borseth: “Lucas can score at any point and any time in the gym. She scores going left, going right, standing up, sitting down. She can flat out score the basketball.”
But the Nittany Lions have other offensive weapons. Lucas, senior guard Zhaque Gray and junior guard Alex Bentley form a three-headed offensive monster that terrorizes opposing teams. Gray and Bentley combined for 27 points last game against the Wolverines.
Along with scoring at ease, the Nittany Lions’ perimeter players also push the ball up the floor well, using their speed to get layups and open looks in transition. Answering Penn State’s speed and ability to score in transition was the biggest struggle for Michigan two weeks ago.
The Wolverines — usually decent on the fast break — were dominated in fast-break points, 24-3. In the half-court, Ryan, a defensive specialist, mostly guarded Lucas, but Michigan will use a help-oriented defense to stop the Nittany Lions.
“(Penn State) had a lot of transition points,” said junior forward Rachel Sheffer. “Knowing where (Gray and Lucas) are on the court, and coming together as a team to stop them (is important).”
The Wolverines have shown they can shut down dangerous combinations — they limited Ohio State's explosive guard duo of Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill to nine fewer points than their combined season average.
Even if Michigan does all the right things defensively to stop the high-powered Penn State attack, it still has to overcome the struggles it had to score the basketball. The Wolverines shot a mere 34 percent from the floor and 32 percent from behind the arc. Improving those low numbers and stopping the Nittany Lions’ ability to score in quick bursts will be the key to success for Michigan on Thursday.
But when asked about whether defense or offense would be more important against Penn State, Borseth said he knows only one way to ensure a victory.
“I know you’re not going to win unless you score points,” he said. “If you score more than them, then you win.”