Loss changes Penn State Greater Allegheny's fortunes
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When Penn State Greater Allegheny dropped a four-point decision to Penn State Hazleton on Jan. 26, the team knew it might have a small impact on its playoff seeding.
What that loss did was force the Lions to drive five hours for a rematch.
At 6 p.m. Tuesday, fifth-seeded Greater Allegheny (13-12, 8-6) will make the long journey to play No. 4 Hazleton (12-10, 8-6) in the Penn State University Athletic Conference quarterfinals. Had the Lions been on the winning end of the 56-52 game, however, they would have finished alone in fourth and hosted the rematch.
“I have a very high level of respect for them,” Penn State Greater Allegheny coach Lou Zadecky said. “I thought that we could play with them even though they were one of the top teams. They came to our place, and we were up a couple times at the end and we let it get away. But until you prove that you can beat someone and prove that you're better, you have to respect them.”
Don't mistake respect for deference. Though Greater Allegheny has to make a long trip, the team will do everything it can to make sure it is game-ready.
“It's a long ride in a mini-bus, and you want to keep your legs fresh because we're not going to make any excuses,” Zadecky said. “We're going to take our time getting out there, stop a couple times and get out and stretch our muscles, and get out there early enough that we can get something good to eat and get focused on the game.”
If Greater Allegheny plans to pull off the minor upset and move into the semifinals, it will need another sparkling game from sophomore guard Taylor Fulton, who had 26 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals in the teams' first meeting. The West Mifflin alumnus is the team's leading scorer this season with 19.5 points per game, good for seventh in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.
“What happens is that Taylor's consistent, and she's consistently going to get her 17- to 20-some points per game. But she's so unselfish that she might have those 20 points, but she's probably setting our kids up whether they're putting the ball in the hoop or not,” Zadecky said. “She's going to get hers, but she's constantly looking and trying to make everyone else better.”
Greater Allegheny also has a solid inside threat with sophomore Christina Floyd, who averages 12.1 points and is fourth in the USCAA with 12.3 rebounds per game. If the Lions are to have any chance of knocking off Hazleton, she has to have a better-than-her-average night.
“She's a kid that we really need to step up,” Zadecky said. “She's picked up so many double-doubles this year that I've lost count.”
Of course, games like this often come down to a contribution from the bench. Greater Allegheny is hoping that freshman guard Shelby Bendick is the one who can provide that much-needed spark.
In the first game between the two, the McKeesport graduate started and had two points and six rebounds.
“She rises to the occasion. ... Every game she does something a little special to keep us in a game,” Zadecky said. “If I look for anyone no one expects to make a key play, it's her.”
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