By Rick Henneman
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team (8-17, 4-10 Horizon League) will play their first home game in over two weeks on Thursday against Northern Kentucky University (8-17, 4-9 HL). The Penguins went 1-3 over their four game road stretch.
“It’s great,” YSU head coach John Barnes said about coming back from the road trip. “I didn’t quite realize that we played six of our last eight games on the road against most of the top teams in the league.”
Barnes also said that to be back home for their final four games and to have two weeks in their own beds is huge for the team.
One question surrounding YSU over the last few weeks has been the health of center Mary Dunn and guard Jenna Hirsch.
“I feel like Mary is coming along slowly but surely,” Barnes said. “Jenna is hit or miss; a back injury is really hard to deal with. She is doing everything she can to try to play but it is super difficult. It’s a game day decision.”
Barnes also said that Dunn is very close to being at full strength and that senior Tamira Ford is healthy enough to be back on the court.
While the Penguins have been plagued with injuries to their starting lineup this year, junior Indiya Benjamin has brought consistency to the team. Benjamin has started all of her games this year while averaging 11.2 points and 5.6 assists per game.
“Indiya had a great game against Milwaukee, basically kept us in it,” Barnes said of Benjamin. “She’s the only full-time starter from last year that is still playing for us this year. We need her at that point guard spot. To have that experience is huge. I feel like she is still growing in terms of her leadership.”
Barnes said that Benjamin has been the steady player they’ve needed.
YSU played NKU on January 7. The Norse walked away with an 87-81 win in overtime despite having four Penguins with double figure points.
“With our first meeting we struggled on the defensive side,” Barnes said about the loss. “We have all season. It really hurt us not having Al [Smolinski] in the lineup; she’s our leading scorer in conference. When you lose in overtime you hope that she would be able to score some points for us. Defensively we have a lot better idea of what we need to do to hold them to a lower number.”
NKU forward Rebecca Lyttle posted a season-high 23 points and four assists against the Penguins in January. Forward Kasey Uetrecht leads the Norse with 11.7 points per game. She had 22 points and a season-high 17 rebounds against YSU in the first meeting.
The Penguins will finish their season with four straight games at home before the Horizon League Tournament. Barnes is feeling optimistic about the next two weeks for his team.
“We’re hoping to be at full strength and make a run,” Barnes said, “That’s our hope; we have four home games and they are games that we can win. No matter who is injured and who is not, we hope to finish strong and go into the tournament on a high note. You never know what could happen.”
YSU plays NKU at 5:15 p.m. on Feb. 16 and then will play Wright State University on Feb. 18 at 4:30 p.m. Both games are part of a men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader.