Penguin women face league’s best on Friday

YOUNGSTOWN — Five straight wins; sitting atop the Horizon League.

Everything was going well for Youngstown State. It’s women’s basketball team was the talk of the league.

But losses at Milwaukee and at Green Bay have changed things. Milwaukee, the Horizon’s best 3-point shooting team, held off the Penguins in overtime. The Phoenix, the perennial stalwart of the conference with numerous regular-season and tournament championships, came back from a slow start to play much better as of late.

YSU coach John Barnes said there’s no reason for panic after the Penguins dropped into a tie for third place at 4-2 in the league. YSU is 12-5 overall.

“We need to focus on what got us and where we were,” Barnes said. “We have to get those teams at home once we get back here.”

There will be plenty of time to reset these Penguins as they start a six-game homestand on Friday against league-leader Wright State (13-4, 5-0), starting at 7 p.m. The homestand takes YSU through a Feb. 2 meeting against Detroit Mercy.

“That’s a great opportunity for us to go on a run, take care of home court and put us in a great position to finish out the year,” Barnes said.

There’s no doubt Wright State is one of the premier teams in the Horizon League.

The Raiders are quick, the top scoring team, with great rebounders — leading in offensive rebounds. Wright State forces a lot of turnovers with some intense pressure. It won’t be easy on Friday.

“They’ve established themselves as one of the best teams in this league,” Barnes said. “We’re going to have to play one of our best games to beat them.”

For YSU to be successful going forward, it has to rely on what got it to first place and what has been the staple of Barnes’ teams — defense. The Penguins only let opponents average 54 points per outing, the best in the Horizon.

“Our defense is going to win us games,” said YSU post and Lordstown native Sarah Cash. “When we’re struggling on offense, the defense will get us to our offensive possessions.”