Throughout the non-conference schedule, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team looked as though it was sleep walking, winning only four times in 13 contests.
Funny thing is that the Penguins were.
“After the Akron game, we kind of woke up, and I didn’t think we would,” Karen Flagg said. “It’s great because when we lose, it’s depressing, especially for the coach.”
YSU lost one more time since losing at the University of Akron on Dec. 29. The other loss was against another non-conference opponent six days later. Since then, conference play began, and the Penguins haven’t lost since, including Saturday’s 79-64 victory over Oakland University.
The Penguins (9-9, 5-0 in the Horizon League) had six days to prepare for OU (8-11, 3-3). They gained two major advantages over the Golden Grizzlies.
“I think rest was big,” coach John Barnes said. “Melissa Thompson’s got a bad knee. Karen’s got bad knees, so we were able to take some time and get them healthy. We were really able to focus on what Oakland does, which I thought we did a good job on in the first half. Those are the two biggest things.”
Barnes even got some rest himself, battling a cold since last week. The rest definitely showed in the first half.
YSU began on a 21-2 scoring run to open the contest and led, 43-21, at halftime. The Penguins nailed eight 3-pointers — four from Liz Hornberger — on 14 attempts. They finished making 12 on 24 attempts overall.
“When your 3s are going down like that, it makes life really easy on the inside, too,” Barnes said. “That’s why it was going really well in the first half.”
Coming out at halftime, the Penguins fell back asleep while the Grizzlies, who shot 20 percent in the first half, woke up. OU kept battling and cut the deficit to 55-49 at the 8:34 mark. Luckily for YSU, that was right around the next media timeout.
“We had to wake up after the media timeout,” Flagg said.
The Penguins did just that and brought the lead back to double figures shortly after. OU cut the deficit back to single digits later on but never got closer than eight.
YSU caught another break with 4:53 remaining in the game. Betha Watterworth, who scored a team-high 21 points (15 in the second half) and collected nine rebounds, fouled out.
Behind Watterworth were Elena Popkey with 13 points and Olivia Nash with 11.
“Our biggest concern was guarding [Popkey], and Liz did a great job on her,” Flagg said.
Heidi Schlegel paced YSU with a game-high 25 points and nine rebounds. Hornberger, the reigning Horizon League Player of the Week, scored 18 all on 3-pointers. Flagg finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
The win keeps the Penguins as the No. 1 team in the conference. Their next opponent is the University of Detroit Mercy on Wednesday, the finale of YSU’s four-game home stand. Detroit has not won a conference game so far and fell to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 81-69, on Saturday.
“This conference is up for grabs, and I feel like we can win this,” Flagg said. “I feel like we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and, hopefully, we have a shot at winning this.”