The Penn State women’s basketball team has made big strides in the past few weeks with a four-game winning streak in the Big Ten, exactly the kind of run second-year coach Carolyn Kieger needed as she tries to rebuild the program into a conference and national power.
The Lady Lions ran their streak to four by crushing Wisconsin on Sunday, 98-74, at the Bryce Jordan Center. It was the most points PSU has scored in a Big Ten game in 20 years.
The Lady Lions are 8-7 overall, and their 5-6 Big Ten record is actually better than the PSU men’s record of 4-7 in league play.
That is quite an achievement for a Penn State team that finished just 1-17 in the Big Ten last season, Kieger’s first taking over the program after coming over from Marquette, where she had gone to three straight NCAA Tournaments. The Lady Lions went 7-23 last season, so they already have more wins than that this year.
Kieger took over a tough rebuild after PSU had really slipped at the end of Coquese Washington’s tenure. Penn State finished 6-10 and 5-13 in the Big Ten in Washington’s final two years, and a program that had been a consistent NCAA Tournament participant had fallen largely into the realm of irrelevance.
Penn State has not made an NCAA Tournament since 2014.
Kieger was tasked with turning things around, and this latest stretch of wins has been the first real sign of that potentially happening.
Three of Penn State’s four wins have come against the three teams at the bottom of the Big Ten standings — Wisconsin, Illinois and Purdue — while the fourth was over a solid Nebraska team that’s in the middle of the pack.
Still, wins are wins — no matter who they’re coming against — for a team that was 1-17 in the league last year. So at this stage, Kieger has been able to find some success and build confidence for the players in the program, which was a necessary first step for Penn State to return to prominence.
“So impressed and proud of our team tonight,” Kieger said after Sunday’s win. “That was a complete team victory from top to bottom. … Loved the team basketball. We had so many great assists, so many extra passes, one mores. Total we over me victory today. Really excited for our whole team and our whole program.”