Guru's Musings: Lucas Oils Penn State To Top of Big 10
By Mel Greenberg
It was a year ago next week that Penn State slipped into the Associated Press women’s poll for the first time since the 2004-05 season.
The nod from the national media panel voting each week seemed a sign that the Nittany Lions had made it back to their place under the women’s basketball sun in coach Coquese Washington’s third season.
But the success was quickly short-circuited as the team went into a dive. Although PSU made it into the postseason for the first time since 2004-05 thanks to the expanded Women’s National Invitation Tournament, Hofstra brought thoughts of a deep run to an abrupt end with an upset at Happy Valley in a first round game.
Now the Nittany Lions (15-4, 4-1 Big Ten) have roared to a first-place tie in the Big 10 with Michigan State and off to their best conference start since 7-0 in 2004-05. As a result, they may soon get another vote of approval in the AP poll, perhaps as early as Monday’s release of this week’s rankings.
But is there enough staying power on hand to avoid being a one-week wonder?
It could be because unlike a year ago the first female leprechaun since all-time scorer Kelly Mazzante graduated in 2004 is on the scene.
Her name is Maggie Lucas and she hails out of Germantown Academy, the same suburban Philadelphia school that has housed such future prized collegians as Connecticut’s Caroline Doty.
Lucas in her first season is already hammering away at the blocks of granite cultivated in the Mazzante era that made it seemed her records would be indestructible for a long time.
On Sunday, Lucas, who has been monopolizing Big Ten rookie of the week awards, nailed six three-pointers and eclipsed by one Mazzante’s freshman mark of 65 in a season as she reached her 320th point and Penn State beat Illinois, 83-62.
Remember that’s a season record that Mazzante completed in late March and Lucas may have at least 12 or more games left before 2011 officially is retired to the PSU records archives.
For those looking way down the road, the meter on Mazzante’s storied career record that also became a Big 10 mark stopped at 2,919 points. Lucas could very well threaten that achievement.
This season there is extra motivation for Lucas to lead her team back to the Big Dance.
The Nittany Lions’ Bryce Jordan Center is one of 16 first-second round sites and if PSU gets a bid it gets to stay home. Then there’s the possibility for better or worse depending on the top seed that Penn State would be placed as part of the Philadelphia Regional giving Lucas and three of her teammates a special homecoming in March.
Nacickaite’s Heroics No Longer Foreign To Drexel
Although Drexel is still dabbling in foreign affairs in the wake of all-time scorer Gabriela Marginean’s departure, the concept of a native of another land rescuing the Dragons continues to be familiar.
Going into the season the question about Drexel was who might fill the go-to role that starred the native of Romania.
That was quickly answered with the play of junior guard Kamile Nacickaite.
On Sunday, she was at it again in a game-saving performance.
The native of Lithuana connected on a long three-pointer just before overtime ended to give the Dragons a 59-58 victory over William & Mary in a Colonial Athletic Association victory in Williamsburg, Va.
“Kamile made a ridiculous shot to win it,” Drexel coach Denise Dillon said from the team bus as the Dragons (11-5, 3-2 CAA) were returning home. “We were running the play for Hollie Mershon but the ball ended up in Kamile’s hands and she didn’t have a pass to make so she shot it.”
Nacickaite finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds while Jasmina Rosseel, the native of Belgium, had 11 points and hit a key three-pointer earlier in the overtime. It was the third straight game decided by three points or less for the Dragons who lost 77-73 in overtime at James Madison Thursday night.
Taysha Paye had 19 points and four assists for the Tribe (1-14, 0-5).
Though two Drexel players were recently lost for the rest of the season with knee injuries, the Dragons got a third one back in forward Tyler Hale, who had missed three games because of a concussion.
“That’s important because we really need her in our rotation,” Dillon said of Hale, who had nine points and five rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench.
Drexel next travels to George Mason Thursday night.
Delaware Close But Not Enough Again To Topple ODU
Danielle Parker had a career-high 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds but the Blue Hens (10-6, 3-2 CAA) fell to the conference-leading Monarchs (11-5, 5-0) at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark by a score of 62-59.
ODU has beaten Delaware four straight dating back to last season with the games decided by an overall total of seven points. Monarchs coach Wendy Larry gained her 599th-career victory to tie her with Philadelphia University’s Tom Shirley at 20 on the all-time list across divisions.
Shirley missed his third straight shot at 600 but has another Wednesday night when Chestnut Hill College will visit the Gallagher Athletic Center.
Larry’s chance is Thursday when Virginia Commonwealth will make the short ride from Richmond to Norfolk in the Dominion State.
Mwanwhile, Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne missed her eighth straight game because of back problems. Coach Tina Martin was hopeful last Thursday that perhaps a diagnosis of the condition with a possible solution might be made by Monday.
How About Those Penn Quakers
Can Ivy defending champion Princeton be tougher than Atlantic Coast Conference traditional power Virginia?
Consider a week ago that Penn’s developing program in Mike McLaughlin’s second season opened league play in Jadwin Gym against the Tigers and after playing even at 20-20 in the first half got waxed pretty quickly after the break.
The Quakers (5-8) weren’t given much hope on their visit to Charlottesville Sunday to meet the Cavaliers (11-8) in the John Paul Jones Arena.
However, though trailing by 17 early in the second half, Penn sliced the deficit all the way down to three points at the three-minute mark until being forced to foul resulted in a 54-45 win by Virginia.
Penn’s Alyssa Baron scored 13 points while Virginia’s Chelsea Shine, a graduate of Conestoga High in the Philadelphia suburbs, scored 20.
The Quakers will host La Salle at the Palestra Wednesday night at 7 p.m. and then Temple at 2 p.m. Saturday to complete their Big Five schedule.
Villanova Better In Disguise?
Before playing the Wildcats (8-9, 0-4 Big East) in a conference game Sunday afternoon on the Main Line, Doug Bruno, coach of No. 14 DePaul (17-2, 5-0), expressed concern Saturday night about facing Harry Perretta’s squad, which had been having scoring problems all season.
“Villanova always plays better later in the season, Rutgers always plays better,” Bruno said while attending the Philly.com/Rally High School girls tournament at Philadelphia University.
Despite his fears, DePaul still was able to take a relative easy 64-45 win over the Wildcats at the Pavilion.
Villanova has been forced to meet conference heavyweights such as UConn, Rutgers, West Virginia, and DePaul early though there are actually few easy pickings in the Big East this season.
Still, Perretta thinks there is some progress being made as he explained to Glenn Papazian, who covered the game for his Philly College Sports website.
Lindsay Kimmel, by the way, had 12 points for Villanova while DePaul’s Keisha Hampton had 20 points and seven rebounds as the graduate of Philadelphia’s Engineering & Science High celebrated a homecoming.
“We are playing against such quality opponents you don’t notice it,” Perretta said. “Sometimes you look like you’re not playing better.
“Our number of quality shots has gone up, our turnovers have gone down. Are there enough quality shots? No. But we are getting more now than early in the season.”
UConn Ahead Again As Fork In The Road For North Carolina
The fourth in a series of predicted potential potholes for the two-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut Huskies is just ahead Monday night when they make a nonconference visit to ACC power North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
At the beginning of the season when UConn was still on the way to its Division I record win streak at 90, there were several danger spots to the Huskies that were rather obvious.
The first was dodged when they edged Baylor by a point, though the Bears have since gone ahead to take No. 1 over UConn in the AP poll.
Then Stanford applied the hammer to end the win streak as the Cardinal triumphed at home in Palo Alto, Calif. Notre Dame almost got a win a week ago at home in South Bend and will have another shot visiting UConn and then potentially again in the Big East tournament.
Now the Tar Heels are ahead on the radar but the last two seasons UConn’s lopsided wins so got into UNC’s psyche they went into a tailspin both times.
But Tina Charles is no longer around to help patrol the paint so again it may be up to Maya Moore to keep the Huskies out of trouble.
North Carolina will travel to Maryland Sunday for an ACC game in the Terrapins’ Comcast Center at 5 p.m.
UConn meets another ACC power at the end of the month when No. 3 Duke visits on January 31. Oklahoma is also coming from the Midwest and Big 12 conference to resume the Sooners’ national rivalry with the Huskies.
The Mostly Local Week
St. Joseph’s visits Temple at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Liacouras Center in an Atlantic 10 women’s game before the Temple men meet Penn in a Big 5 game. The first of the annual home-and-home confrontations for this season will not count in the Big 5 standings.
As mentioned, La Salle, off a nice win against St. Louis, visits Penn at 7 p.m. the same night. Villanova with a shot to get a Big East win will host Providence, their home-and-home conference partner this season.
Drexel on Thursday will be at George Mason for a CAA game in Fairfax, Va., near Washington while Delaware visits N.C.-Wilmington which is doing surprisingly well under first-year coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer who was a superstar in the WNBA.
Friday features the annual Big 5 Hall of Fame induction luncheon at the Palestra.
On a loaded Saturday, as mentioned, Temple visits Penn at 2 p.m., Rutgers will host Providence in the Big East the same time, Massachusetts will visit St. Joseph’s in the A-10 at 2 p.m. while another A-10 matchup has Suzie McConnell-Serio’s hot Duquesne squad visiting La Salle at 7 p.m. Villanova will be at nationally-ranked Georgetown in the Big East at 2 p.m.
And on Sunday Hofstra with former West Chester Henderson star Shante Evans will visit Drexel at 2 p.m. in the CAA, Delaware will be at Georgia State and Penn State will host Indiana following Thursday’s Big 10 visit to Purdue.
See you all within the next 24 hours.