Column: Lady Lions Peaking at Right Time
The Lady Lions currently sit on top of the Big Ten standings with an 9-2 record in conference play. Michigan State and Nebraska are right behind, at 8-3 and 7-3 respectively, but the Lady Lions are the most talented of the three teams. The Lady Lions already beat Michigan State at East Lansing, but they must go to Lincoln, to play the Cornhuskers. With their improved play, they are in prime position to win the Big Ten and go into the Big Ten tournament on fire.
Penn State is in prime position to repeat as regular season Big Ten champions, and it is not just because of the schedule. The Lady Lions have begun to play their best basketball at the end of the season, a place where every team wants to be. For a team to peak late, every player has to seamlessly play together.
The Lady Lions started out slow at an 11-4 clip, before a six-game win streak catapulted them to the top of the Big Ten rankings. Although Penn State just lost a really tough home game to Iowa, the team is still excelling at a high level.
Maggie Lucas is finally rounding into form. The Lady Lions seemed to have picked up the pace in their recent play, and it has certainly helped their senior leader to shoot better. Lucasʼ three point percentage has raised to go along with her rebounding. Lucas had her best shooting performance of the year Sunday, against Ohio State. The senior leader shot 9-14 and poured in 23 points, while shooting 50% from three.
Penn State has improved their play not only because of Lucas, but because of her supporting cast. Ariel Edwards is playing some of her best basketball of the year. Edwardsʼ points per game and her shooting percentage have risen a full five percent. The senior forward has also rebounded much better and always seems to find an open teammate.
Although Edwards struggled in Penn Stateʼs win over the Buckeyes, she should be able to bounce back against Indiana, who she enjoyed one of her best games against. As the second banana to Lucas, Edwards is extremely important to the Lady Lions, and it has certainly shown in conference play.
Senior guard Dara Taylor has also improved her play in conference games. Although her shooting and scoring stats have dropped slightly, Taylor is excelling on the defensive end. The senior guard is averaging close to three steals a game and is a prime reason why the Lady Lions are pushing the pace. Taylor is the best player at breaking down a defense and getting to the rim, so she will be extremely important moving forward for the Lady Lions if they want to get more easy shots.
Both Talia East and Tori Waldner are helping to control the paint in conference play. Eastʼs scoring is almost secondary in how she helps the Lady Lions, yet she is still averaging close to 10 points a game. East has quietly become a beast in the paint, averaging close to nine rebounds a game and more than a block per game. East is a deterrent for other teams, especially when they want to drive to the rim. Waldner has also become comfortable in her role as a role player. Although her minutes have dropped, Waldner continues to rebound well and score when needed.
Defensively, the Lady Lions have improved, even with the quicker pace. Penn State has held teams below 60 points five times in Big Ten play, which is incredible. Opposing teams are struggling to even shoot 40 percent against the Lady Lions, something that can continue for the rest of the year.
The Lady Lions are in prime position to repeat as regular season Big Ten champions, as long as they beat Nebraska in Lincoln. For Penn State to continue this run in the Big Ten, they must continue their play on the defensive side of the ball. The Lady Lions look to stay hot in the Big Ten Thursday, in Bloomington, against a young Indiana team.
Photo Courtesy: (AP Photo/Mike Munden)