Things went somewhat according to plan in the opening act of the No. 12 Lady Lions’ season this weekend, as they escaped the Lady Lion Classic 2-0 but struggled early in both games.
Game #1: Lady Lions (1-0) beat Washington State (0-1), 72-60.
This was the first game of the Lady Lion Classic, a four-team tournament hosted by Penn State.
Washington State might have finished 8-23 last season, but they proved in their season opener that their ten returning letter winners mean business. The Cougars gave the Lady Lions a serious run for their money. Penn State did not take a lead they wouldn’t surrender until there was 6:53 left in the game. They turned the ball over 24 times.
Had it not been for the leadership and poise of guards Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas, things easily could have turned out differently in this one. They both remained calm all game and played a very good 2-3 zone defense against the Cougars. Also, they scored 22 points apiece.
Ironically, WSU went on to beat UNC-Wilmington by this exact same score on Sunday.
Game #2: Lady Lions (2-0) beat Middle Tennessee State (1-1), 65-49.
Different game, same story. The Lady Lions trailed all day in the championship of the Lady Lion Classic, and surged late to win it.
They actually played a lot more cohesively in this game than they did against WSU. They limited their turnovers and had better ball movement. This time around, their problem was shooting. They shot a measly 27.3 field goal percentage and missed every single one of the ten 3-pointers they attempted in the first half. Again, the hero was Maggie Lucas, who hit two late 3’s to clinch a victory. Guard Zhaque Gray notched 14 points, while forward Ariel
Edwards played a very composed game off the bench to score 10 points.
Center Nikki Greene has struggled early. Though she has been a rebounding force (11 RPG), she has missed some open lay-ups in both games and hasn’t looked very focused on the court (6.0 PPG, 4-14 from the floor). Talia East, her replacement, has looked a little bit better. Still, Greene is a solid player and should bounce back, especially when Captain Marisa Wolfe’s knee injury heals and she can provide more depth down low.
The fact that the Lady Lions struggled early against both teams is somewhat worrisome, but not a disaster. Both teams are underrated. WSU was bad last year but is returning a very similar team, and MTSU is in the Sun Belt but is a NCAA Tournament regular.
Player of the week
Lady Lion Classic MVP Maggie Lucas earned that honor, as her achievements came in spades. She averaged 18 points per game in the tournament, and her clutch factor was a ten out of ten. She also defended well and excelled from both the point guard and shooting guard positions.
Around the league: There were upsets aplenty in the first weekend of women’s action. No. 10 Georgetown was steamrolled by No. 11 Maryland on Sunday, 72-53, so the Lady Lions should overtake the Hoyas in the rankings when they are released tomorrow. No. 14 Florida State was upset at home by Arkansas, 55-52, while No. 20 Texas and No. 25 St. John’s also went down.
It was a rough weekend for some of the Big Ten teams hunting the Lady Lions. Michigan State (No. 27 in the AP poll) was taken down by Villanova, 75-64, and Iowa (No. 30) lost, 69-59, to UNLV.
11/17 - PSU at Delaware: The Blue Hens are receiving votes in the AP Poll and could beat Penn State with ease if they don’t fix their early-game sloppiness.
11/20 - PSU at South Carolina: The Gamecocks are also receiving votes, and Columbia, S.C., is one of the farthest places the Lady Lions will travel to play a game this year. It is conceivable that, unless coach Coquese Washington is able to coach up her players between now and Thursday, the Lady Lions will be 2-2 by next week’s end.
Quote(s) of the week
Opposing coaches all raved about Maggie Lucas.
Bloomsburg coach Bill Clearly: “I’m glad I don’t have to go up against her again, let me tell you. She’s an incredible shooter.”
WSU coach June Daugherty: “She’s a very good player. Obviously, a very good player. She went [7-for-8 from 3-point land] in the exhibition? That must have been fun to see.”
MTSU coach Rick Insell: “Lucas is great…she gets the ball up so quick, gets her feet set…she’s one of the best shooters in the country.”