Funny the way it is: Barnes faces old team with new Penguins

Junior Heidi Schlegel attempts a contested layup earlier this season. Schlegel has already made 100 free throws, which is the seventh most in the country.
Junior Heidi Schlegel attempts a contested layup earlier this season. Schlegel has already made 100 free throws, which is the seventh most in the country.

Sports are an interesting concept.

One minute, a coach such as John Barnes sits with a team like the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He helps coach the Phoenix to dismantle the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team, 59-41, on Jan. 19.

The next minute — which is 362 days later in this case — Barnes will try to do the same thing on the other side on Thursday. He’ll also face his former boss, Phoenix head coach Kevin Borseth, whom Barnes coached with at Green Bay last year and at the University of Michigan the year before.

“We know each other’s style,” Barnes said. “I kind of know everything that he wants to do. I’m sure he’ll have a few wrinkles in there, but, really, it’s going to come down to who plays the hardest and who has a better night.”

Barnes and Borseth have never coached against one another during the regular season. Before he became Bob Boldon’s successor, Barnes took a few coaching strategies from Borseth that he uses with the Penguins.

“He does a really nice job with motion offense,” Barnes said. “I’m more of a set-orientated coach, but I’ve implemented some of his motion offensive philosophies. I was dead set against switching for the most part. I switch a lot more now than I have in the past.”

YSU (6-9, 2-0 in the Horizon League) returns to Beeghly Center after winning its last two contests — both conference victories. The Penguins struggled in their non-conference schedule but have seemed to finally find their groove.

YSU began its conference slate with a 62-49 victory at Valparaiso University on Jan. 9. The Penguins then defeated the University of Illinois at Chicago, 69-58, on Saturday.

The Penguins have never started 3-0 since joining the Horizon League. They haven’t started 3-0 in their own conference since 1999-2000 when they played in the Mid-Continent Conference.

Along with the team’s strong performances against Valpo and UIC, junior Heidi Schlegel improved as well. She finished with 19 points and 19 rebounds against Valpo before scoring 28 points and collecting 11 rebounds at UIC. Schlegel was also honored with the Horizon League Scholar Athlete of the Month for December.

Along with Schlegel, senior Liz Hornberger has improved. She scored in double figures in four of the last five games.

“I give her credit because she’s starting to become more aggressive and not passing up shots,” Schlegel said. “She would pass the ball, and we’d be like ‘Liz, just shoot the ball.’ That’s been the difference in the last couple of games.”

The Phoenix (8-6, 1-1) have struggled a tad since losing some key players from last year’s squad. Green Bay has gotten progressively younger with two freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup. Barnes has seen a difference from the team he helped coach last year.

“Green Bay’s tradition of being a conference champion and in the NCAA tournament as opposed to an up-and-coming program is the biggest difference,” he said. “They have been there for about the last 15-20 years. Learning how to play hard and compete at a really high level day in and day out is where we’re trying to get to.”

Tipoff is set for 7:05 p.m. Although Barnes will stand from another sideline than last year, he won’t forget which team is his.

“I was only at Green Bay for a year, so it won’t feel weird at all,” he said. “I feel right at home here.”