By Marc Weems
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team goes into the Horizon League tournament on quite the roll.
“Getting picked eighth in the league and then not having Alison (Smolinski) for most of the conference schedule really hurt. I was pretty excited with the way that we finished the season with nine wins in our last 11 games,” Youngstown State University head coach John Barnes said.
YSU (15-14, 11-7) has won nine of its last 11 games with wins over Northern Kentucky University and Cleveland State University in the last two games of the regular season.
The Penguins will be facing the fourth-seeded University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the tournament, a team they have played tough twice already.
“We got the fifth seed and face Milwaukee. We had overtime and a buzzer-beater. We played two really good games against them so I expect another good one,” Barnes said about their opponent.
YSU and Milwaukee are dead even in the two games they have played.
In the first game back on Jan. 14 in Milwaukee, Milwaukee defeated the Penguins on Jan. 13, 62-61, behind a Jamie Reit game-winning shot.
The Penguins got their revenge at home as YSU beat the Panthers, 86-85, in overtime. Eight free throws and two layups made by Sarah Cash got them the win.
“We are definitely getting to our peak in the season. The second half of conference play has been really good for us,” guard Chelsea Olson said. “We are going in with a lot of confidence and we just have to keep playing that way.”
In both games against the Panthers, YSU was severely outrebounded, 84-56, in two games. In YSU’s win at home, the Penguins outscored Milwaukee, 38-18, off the bench which will be a major key in getting the win and advancing.
“They are very well coached. We know that we are going to have to play our best basketball to get the win. I think that every game we’ve played in we wouldn’t win unless we play really hard and really well. We are excited to get back on the court,” Barnes said.
For YSU, everything comes down to consistency. When it has played consistent in games, it normally wins those games.
One key will be rebounding. In the two games against Milwaukee, YSU was terribly outrebounded and will need to fix that for a victory.
In their win on Feb. 15, the Penguins scored 20 more bench points than Milwaukee and will need to do that again to beat them.
“We know that games now are going to be close and we just have to find ways to win. We are really confident in the way we are playing. Hopefully we can hand them another loss,” Olson said.
Olson is a major part of YSU’s offense as she started 18 games out of its 29 games played. She averaged 8.1 points per game on 40 percent shooting and 36 percent from three. She grabbed 4.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 0.7 blocks.
“The biggest thing is being able to get the players some rest. Any minor injuries have some time heal and get better,” Barnes said about the extra break the team gets. “I think that we are playing our best basketball right now. This is the time of year that you want to be doing that. You win three games and you’re in the NCAA tournament.”
YSU faces Milwaukee on March 4 at 2:30 p.m. in Detroit, MI.