By Rick Henneman
After losing back-to-back games on the road, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team will face the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (17-2, 8-0 HL), at home on Jan. 26.
The Penguins (7-12, 3-5 in Horizon League) have been winless on the road in conference play this season.
“I felt like mentally, we weren’t focused and sharp on the road,” YSU head coach John Barnes said. “That was going on five games in 11 days and then ending it on the road is a little difficult, especially with a young team. We should be able to be in it mentally and execute the game plan, which I thought we did really well in our home games.”
On the road YSU is 0-9, but at home the Penguins are 7-5. On the road, YSU shoots worse, scores less and is outrebounded overall.
“I think across the board we need to be more consistent,” Barnes said. “We have way too many ups and downs: a lot of points one game and no points the next game. We just need more consistency, and that’s something that happens with a young team.”
One of the more consistent components of the Penguins recently has been the play of guard Alison Smolinski. In conference play, Smolinski leads the team in points per game (16.3) and 3-point percentage (54.5).
“Al [Smolinski] has done a great job for us,” Barnes said. “She has been aggressive, looked to attack and kind of taken an offensive load on her shoulders. She hasn’t done that in the past. I’m very proud of what she’s done and hopefully some of the other players can take lead from her. We need them to be as aggressive.”
Green Bay is entering the game undefeated in Horizon League play and has the best defense in the conference, only allowing 48.2 points per game. Their impressive defense has helped UWGB boast the best scoring margin in the league as well (+20.5). The Phoenix also have the highest field goal percentage in the conference (46.1).
“They are extremely talented, well coached and tough,” Barnes said of Green Bay. “We’ll have our work cut out for us. We’re obviously going to have to play one of our best games. We are just young enough to maybe not worry about that and play our game and find a way to get it done. They have so many weapons that you have to account for. It will be tough all the way around.”
The YSU defense has been the second worst in conference this year (73.1 points per game), and Barnes said that he will be focusing on that the most during the second half of the season.
“I think defensively we need to keep improving; we’re not very good at all,” Barnes said. “Some of that has to do with personnel, some of that has to do with mental toughness and raising your level of game each day. I thought we played great defense against Cleveland State, and then we really struggled against Detroit and Oakland on the road.”
The Horizon League tournament is more than a month away, but Barnes emphasized that the team isn’t concerned with their standings yet.
“We’re not too worried about where we are going to be seeded, we’re trying to take it one game at a time,” Barnes said. “With this group if you start looking too far ahead, you lose track of the little things that help you win games. We’re going to break it down as small as we can so it doesn’t get overwhelming.”
Tipoff for the game against Green Bay is set for 7 p.m. on Jan. 26 and can be watched on ESPN 3. YSU will also play University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Jan. 28 at 4:30 p.m.