Penguins hope for improvement, consistency

YOUNGSTOWN — The last thing John Barnes wants to do is look ahead to the Horizon League Tournament. The Joe Louis Arena is holding the event there from March 3-7 in downtown Detroit.

Seeds three through six do not play until March 5, which most women’s basketball teams have their sights set on doing this season.

Youngstown State, which saw its top scorers go out with knee injuries earlier this season, isn’t one of those teams.

The old coaches cliche of “taking it one game at a time” is something this Penguins team wants to do with it playing many true freshmen and and other bench players on a frequent basis.

“We’re not too worried about where we’ll be seeded,” Barnes said. “We’re trying to take it one game at a time. With this group, if you start looking too far ahead, doing things like that, you lose track of the little things that can help you win games. We’re going to focus on each day at practice, each drill. Break it down as small as we can so it doesn’t get overwhelming for them.”

Barnes is a subscriber of this theory, especially as the Horizon League’s top-seeded team and No. 24-ranked Green Bay comes to town tonight. Tipoff at the Beeghly Center is at 7 p.m.

Can YSU stay competitive in this game against a Green Bay team (17-2, 8-0 Horizon) that has its only loss at then No. 1-ranked Notre Dame by four points?

“They’re extremely talented, well-coached, tough” said Barnes, a former assistant under Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth. “We’ll have our work cut out for us. We’re just young enough to not worry about that, play our game, and find a way to get it done. They have so many weapons you have to account for in their defense. They’re one of the best in the country. We’re going to have to find a way to make baskets, too. It’ll be tough all the way around. We’re going to approach it like every other game, do our best and see what happens.”

These Penguins (7-12, 3-5) need consistency. In the last homestand, YSU had three straight wins — its only three league victories. Then, the Penguins dropped two straight at Detroit and Oakland. However, it was five games in 11 days, which took its toll on YSU’s young team, Barnes said.

Milwaukee (13-6, 5-3) is tied for fourth with Cleveland State, which hosts the Panthers tonight. Milwaukee is at YSU on Saturday, starting at 4:30 p.m.

Junior point guard Indiya Benjamin and senior shooting guard Jenna Hirsch are around 11 points. Then, freshman Morgan Brunner has around 10 points in her eight league games.

So far, sophomore Alison Smolinski has been the Penguins’ leader with 16.3 points in each of the Penguins’ six league games she’s played.

“Al has done a great job for us,” Smolinski said. “She’s been extremely aggressive, looked to attack, taken an offensive load on her shoulders when she hasn’t done that in the past. Very proud of what she’s done. Hopefully some of the other players can take a lead from her. We need them to be as aggressive or more so. Very happy with her play. She’s doing a great job.”

Barnes is rolling with the ups and downs of this season.

“I’m not trying to get too high off the three-game win streak and I’m not going to get too low off of these two losses,” Barnes said. “We’re playing the better teams in the league on the road. We have to figure out how to get it done on the road like we did at home.”