#12 Penn State Women's Basketball Preview

Penn State Nittany Lions

Overall rank: #12
Conference rank: Big Ten #1
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It has been a steady climb to the top for Penn State under fifth-year head coach Coquese Washington, who is known in women’s basketball circles as a standout who guided Notre Dame to the 2001 national championship. After going 24-36 in her first two seasons with the Nittany Lions, Penn State turned things around to a 17-14 record in 2009-10. Last year Penn State completed the turnaround, going 25-10 and reaching the NCAA tournament. On the heels of this climb, coaches and media have turned on to Penn State as a possible Big Ten Conference winner. The evidence is strong that this could be the Nittany Lions’ year.

2010-11: 25-10, 11-5
2010-11 Postseason: NCAA (lost in second round to DePaul, 75-73)
Coach: Coquese Washington, 66-60 overall

Who’s Out:
Only one player used up her eligibility following last season. Julia Trogele, a 6-2 senior who could swing to guard or forward, became the 19th player in Penn State women’s basketball history with at least 800 points and 600 rebounds. Trogele averaged 9.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and led her team in scoring only twice in 35 games. Her versatility will be missed, but the team can replace those stats with some work. No other Penn State players were dismissed or transferred, meaning everyone else returns for 2011-12.

Who’s In:
Two players are new to the team, one via recruiting and the other via transferring. The transfer is Dara Taylor, who spent the last two years at Maryland and is listed on the 2011-12 roster; due to NCAA regulations, Taylor is not eligible to play until 2012-13 so she will spend the next year preparing for two seasons in State College. Tori Waldner, a 6-5 forward, was a McDonald’s All-American nominee who guided her Milton (Ga.) High School team to a 22-5 record and the Elite 8 in the state 6AAAAA playoffs a year ago. Waldner averaged 12 points and nine rebounds per game as a high school senior.

Who to Watch:
Three players often led the team in scoring during the 2010-11 season, including 5-9 guard Maggie Lucas, who was voted the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and the Sixth Player of the Year. Lucas scored 552 points as a freshman, beating the old record of 529 set by Kelly Mazzante in 2001. She also eclipsed 100 3-pointers, one of only three players to do so (Mazzante and Ohio State’s Caity Matter are the others). Zhaque Gray, a 5-8 senior guard, set personal marks in seven categories including points (331), assists (53), 3-pointers (63) and rebounds (78), so she has a strong foundation to work with heading into the 2011-12 campaign. Junior Alex Bentley, a 5-7 guard, came on strong in the latter half of the season on the way to a first-team coaches selection a year ago and a spot on the Wooden Award preseason watch list.

Final Projection:
Figure that Waldner effectively replaces Trogele in the roster and there is no subtraction. This is why so many people are high on Penn State and rightly so. The Nittany Lions have pretty much all their scoring back and that will help them go a long way in the Big Ten and in the NCAA tournament.

There are a lot of big tests in the Big Ten to offset Penn State’s non-conference slate, which appears fairly easy but has a tough test against North Carolina on Nov. 30. The non-conference schedule is split down the middle between home and away games.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Maggie Lucas, Guard, Sophomore, 15.8 points per game
Zhaque Gray, Guard, Senior, second-leading 3-point shooter at 41.4 percent (63 threes)
Alex Bentley, Guard, Junior, led team in assists (174) and steals (69)
Mia Nickson, Forward, Junior, 113 offensive rebounds last year
Nikki Greene, Forward/Center, Junior, excels at blocking shots (75 last year)