The Lady Lions’ season has finally hit its “win or go home” portion. As they await the Monday announcement of their seeding in the NCAA Tournament, I’ll help pass the time by handing out some regular season accolades.
Most Valuable Player: G Maggie Lucas
This decision is the no-brainer of the century. Lucas averaged 19.1 points per game (fourth in the Big Ten) while draining 41.4 percent of her 3-pointers (third) and 88.7 percent of her free throws (fourth). Without the explosive play of Lucas, who is the heart and soul of the Lady Lions and a First Team All-Big Ten member, Penn State probably wouldn’t have won the Big Ten’s regular season crown. The sophomore is on pace for historic things; after scoring 552 points in her freshman season, she notched 574 this year to become only the third sophomore in Penn State to score 1,000 career points as a sophomore. If she simply scores eleven points in the NCAA Tournament, she will have scored the second-most points ever at Penn State after two seasons, trailing only legendary Kelly Mazzante (who has the most points in the history of the Big Ten).
Honorable Mention: G Alex Bentley, who was also named to the First Team All-Big Ten, helped Lucas score many of those points with excellent court vision that led to 4.8 assists per game (third in the Big Ten). Bentley was also named to the All-Defensive Big Ten squad.
Most Underrated Player: C Nikki Greene
Because Greene started the year slowly and plagued by foul trouble, she seemed to become a bit forgotten. Then, when she exploded for 25 points and 15 rebounds in the Big Ten-clinching win against Ohio State, everyone seemed to remember how effective she can be. She still remains relatively overlooked because fans notice the high-octane play of the guards before the consistent, steady play of the bigs, but Greene is among the top ten in nearly all of the Big Ten’s power categories. For instance, she’s fourth in overall rebounding, with 8.0 boards a game. Without Greene’s big influence down low, the Lady Lions are two wins worse; take notice.
Honorable Mention: F Mia Nickson, for the same reasons. She also missed nine games because of injury.
Most Improved Player: F/C Talia East
A tweet from Lady Lions’ sports information director Kris Petersen (@ladylionsid) today says it all. East’s scoring production has increased by 875 percent (from 12 points to 105) and rebounding numbers by 826 (19 to 157) from last season to this one. After missing 13 games in her freshman year with a torn ACL, the sophomore has provided a worthy replacement of starting center Nikki Greene when she gets in foul trouble. She’s also the best quote on the team, so that should count for something, too.
Honorable Mention: G/F Ariel Edwards, whose PPG went from 2.9 to 6.8 and RPG from 1.9 to 4.5.
Best Bench Option: Ariel Edwards
Edwards played so well as the Lady Lions’ sixth man this season that coach Coquese Washington had to field questions about whether or not she would take the place of senior G Zhaque Gray in the starting lineup earlier in the year. Edwards is versatile as they come. She can shoot the jumper and 3-ball like a guard, post up like a forward, and crash the boards like a center.
Honorable Mention: East.
Finally, the top five most important players to the Lady Lions’ success in the Tournament, in order:
1. Lucas. Duh.
2. Bentley, whose consistency is vital.
3. Greene, who provides a big presence.
4. Nickson, who I couldn’t find an award for.
5. Edwards, whose bench threat is even more important than how Gray performs as a starter.