By Marc Weems
Just two weeks ago, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team sat in eighth place with an 8-13 record overall and a 4-6 Horizon League record. It seemed doomed to prove the pre-season voters right with a near seventh-place finish.
Now two weeks later, YSU (12-13, 8-6) swept its four-game road trip and has rebounded nicely against opponents it should be beating with the talent on the team. It has now won six of the last seven games
It started the trip with a win over Oakland University, 86-76, behind Mary Dunn’s 24 points and eight rebounds, Indiya Benjamin’s 13 points with 10 assists and Chelsea Olson’s 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
The team went to face the University of Detroit Mercy where the Penguins got the 72-52 win. Benjamin had 14 points with eight assists.
“The last four games have been really fun and I’m happy we could get those wins,” senior forward Kelley Wright said. “I hope that I can play the way I know I can and help the team get more wins.”
Wright has been an unsung hero in the last four wins for YSU. She is averaging 9.8 points per game on 62 percent shooting all off the bench. She has done this all while shooting 6 of 12 from the 3-point line.
The Penguins faced Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. YSU upset the Jaguars, 70-67. Benjamin became the all-time assist leader as she broke Danielle Carson’s record of 573 in the game she now sits at 581 career.
Only Terry Moore, of the guys, has more with 619. It is possible she breaks that record soon.
The last game of the road trip was against the University of Illinois-Chicago. YSU defeated the Flames (7-17, 0-13), 71-52, as Chelsea Olson had 17 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks.
She earned her fourth-consecutive Horizon League Freshman-of-the-Week honors while adding College Sports Madness’ Horizon League player of the week.
“Chelsea has really come a long way. She has become really confident and continues to figure out the pace of play at this level,” YSU head coach John Barnes said. “She is not afraid to take the big shots or take over when she needs to.”
Barnes said her best quality is not getting to high nor too low.
One of the big keys to YSU’s success, other than outscoring opponents, was the rebounding margin. The Penguins were only outrebounded once in four games and outrebounded teams on an average of 5.5 per game.
Besides rebounding, bench scoring was the biggest difference in the wins as the Penguins outscored opposing benches 112-45 in the four-game win streak.
“I think we’ve really focused on toughness and physical play. We haven’t changed a lot practice-wise or anything. We are starting to get healthier,” Barnes said. “When we lost Alison [Smolinski], she was a big part of our offense and defense. I think all the things that come with a major injury have ironed themselves out.”
Now YSU looks ahead to four teams that it has played well in the conference.
It faces the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (17-8, 8-5) who is just a half game above YSU and they face each other tonight at 7 p.m.
After that, YSU gets the 19th-ranked University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on Saturday.
YSU lost to Milwaukee, 62-61, on a buzzer-beater and it lost, 65-56, to Green Bay which were both great signs of how good the team could play.
YSU faces Milwaukee tonight at 7 p.m. at the Beeghly Center.