Three keys to the season ...
1. MAGGIE LUCAS’ SIDEKICK
Lucas, a senior, led Penn State in scoring last year, averaging 20.1 points per game. The previous season she averaged 19.5. In short, she is Penn State’s star. But in those years she had Alex Bentley to deflect attention from defenses. This year Lucas and Penn State will need a player to fill that role. The obvious candidate is Ariel Edwards. A versatile forward, Edwards averaged nearly eight points per game as a junior last season. In an exhibition game against Lock Haven last week, she had a team-high 21 points on 70 percent shooting. Lucas is good enough to get open on her own and find her own shots; it’s just that a little bit of assistance could go a long way, especially if Penn State wants to repeat as Big Ten champs.
Penn State was the best team in the Big Ten last year, finishing two games ahead of its nearest competitor, but the success didn’t come from passing. The Nittany Lions ranked 11th in the conference in assists and lost their leading passer, Alex Bentley, to graduation. Dara Taylor is Penn State’s leading returning passer, having averaged 3.4 assists per game last year. Though it was an exhibition game, Taylor had six assists against (and only one turnover) against Lock Haven, and the team finished with 17 assists, nearly five more than its average last year.
3. PEAKING AT THE END
Coach Coquese Washington has done wonders in the last three seasons as Penn State’s head coach. She has taken a team that was sub-.500 in her first two seasons and that made the WNIT in her third season to NCAA tournament berths three consecutive seasons. Last year was supposed to be her best team yet, one with an opportunity to advance past the Sweet 16, but Penn State was upset in the second round by LSU. In two out of their past three trips to the NCAA tournament, Penn State has lost in the second round. While no one would question the job Washington has done — winning consecutive Big Ten titles — a better result in the NCAA tournament, particularly for Lucas’ last season, has to be a primary goal.
AT A GLANCE
• 2012-13: 26-6, 14-2 Big Ten. NCAA tournament second round.
• COACH: Coquese Washington, seventh season, 118-73.
• PROBABLE STARTERS: G — Maggie Lucas, Sr., 5-10 (20.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G — Dara Taylor, Sr., 5-8 (7 ppg, 3.2 rpg); F — Ariel Edwards, Sr., 6-3 (7.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg); F/C — Candice Agee, So., 6-6 (2.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg); F/C — Tori Waldner, Jr. (1.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg).
• SCHEDULE (Home games in caps)
NOVEMBER — 8, SAINT FRANCIS, 7 p.m.; 10, FORDHAM, 2 p.m.; 17, CONNECTICUT, noon; 20, BUCKNELL, 7 p.m.; 29, Oregon State (Grand Bahama Island), 1 p.m.; 30, Florida or Illinois State (Grand Bahama Island), 11:30 a.m. or 1:45 p.m.
DECEMBER: 4, NOTRE DAME, 7:30 p.m.; 8, Georgetown, 2 p.m.; 11, South Dakota State, 8 p.m.; 15, TEXAS A&M, 2 p.m.; 22, ALCORN STATE, 11 a.m.; 29, HARTFORD, 2 p.m.
JANUARY: 5, Iowa, 3 p.m.; 9, Illinois, 9 p.m.; 12, PURDUE, noon; 16, OHIO STATE, 7 p.m.; 19, Michigan State, 5 p.m.; 22, INDIANA, 7 p.m.; 26, MINNESOTA, 1 p.m.; 30, Purdue, 6 p.m.
FEBRUARY: 2, Northwestern, 2 p.m.; 6, IOWA, 6 p.m.; 9, Ohio State, 2 p.m.; 13, Indiana, 7 p.m.; 16, WISCONSIN, 1 p.m.; 20, NORTHWESTERN, 7 p.m.; 24, Nebraska, 7 p.m.
MARCH: 1, MICHIGAN, 3:30 p.m.