By Susan Harman
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Today’s assignment for Iowa women’s basketball fans is to forget everything you think you know about Penn State basketball.
Forget that Iowa won both games last year against the Nittany Lions, 95-51 and 108-67.
Forget that PSU hasn’t had a winning season in its last seven years.
Forget that coach Carolyn Kieger’s record at the school was 41-73 coming into this season.
Because it’s all ancient history. Penn State comes into its Thursday 8 p.m. game at second-ranked Iowa with a 16-6 overall record, thus ensuring a winning season. The Nittany Lions are 7-4 in the Big Ten and tied for fourth place. They clobbered Maryland 112-76, and their NCAA NET ranking is 25th.
“I think they’ve put together a pretty good team this year,” Iowa guard Gabbie Marshall said. “They have some returning players that are really good, and then they’ve added a couple that have helped them a lot. I think it’s going to be a really competitive and fun game in a great environment.”
“They’re a really high-scoring team,” Iowa assistant coach Abby Stamp said. “They shoot the ball really well, and they shoot it well on the road. Ever since (Krieger) took over, they play really hard. No matter what the score, no matter what they have for a record, they’re going to play hard.
“I think what you’ve really seen this year, I mean, she’s running the same system that she’s had since she took over at Penn State. She has a little bit different level of talent and has really been successful with it.”
The Lions’ statistics have moderated during Big Ten play. Overall they are averaging 86.7 points, but in Big Ten play the average is 70.8. Their 3-point percentage overall is .411, but in Big Ten play it is .332.
PSU is perimeter-oriented and led by fifth-year senior Makenna Marisa, an all-Big Ten selection, and grad transfer Ashley Owusu. Marisa is a sharpshooter and shoots 43 percent behind the arc and is averaging 15 points per game. Owusu is a former All-American from Maryland by way of Virginia Tech. Owusu is the leading scorer at 18 points per game and shoots 35 percent from 3-point range.
“She’s really improved her shot,” Marshall said. “Trying to keep her in front of me is going to be really important.”
“Owusu is such a tough matchup,” Stamp said. “She can really get downhill on you. She hits a lot of tough 2-point shots, and she can pull up on you. So you’ve just got to do your best to make her take tough shots.”
But all of the guards shoot from the perimeter and are capable drivers. Sophomore Shay Ciezki, a two-year starter, shoots 40 percent from 3-point range and averages 14 points. Tay Valladay, a Virginia transfer, is shooting 53 percent behind the arc, and Leilani Kapinus is shooting 46 percent. Krieger uses a lot of players and has more depth than her previous teams.
But mostly what the Lions like to do is get out in transition and run to the rim.
PSU’s 40-minute press helps feed the transition game, although Iowa, with Caitlin Clark, has been less susceptible to full-court pressure than other teams.
“They rotate well on defense. They’re going to try to make you make mistakes, and then they’re going to play fast,” Stamp said. “It’s going to be one of the more aggressive presses that we’ve faced in the Big Ten. What we’ve seen most of is a full-court where they’ll be on the ball, and they’ll look to trap out of that. They’ll also do a couple of three-quarter court looks.”
Rebounding will be a key to slowing down the Lions’ transition game. Iowa is coming off one of its best rebounding performances at Maryland.
“When a team really wants to get out and run, we always really stress shot selection,” Stamp said. “The better you shoot, the more you slow them down, the fewer opportunities they have to really push on those missed baskets.
*Big Ten standings. Iowa and Ohio State remain atop the conference standings at 10-1. Indiana is 9-2. Iowa must still play both teams. Ohio State plays at Iowa on the final day of the season but also has games at Michigan State (7-4) and Penn State and at home with Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska. Indiana plays host to Michigan State, Iowa and Maryland among its remaining games.
The Iowa-Penn State game will be televised by the Big Ten Network and broadcast by the Hawkeye Radio Network.