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In Lucas, Penn State has 'shooting' star

| Sunday, March 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State's Maggie Lucas drives to the basket against Dayton during their opening round game in the NCAA Women's Tournament on March 19, 2011, at Bryce Jordan Center in University Park.

As a freshman, Penn State shooting guard Maggie Lucas wasn't always on the same page with point guard Alex Bentley.

Coach Coquese Washington said it wasn't as if they didn't respect or like one another, but both were young, intensely competitive and used to playing a certain way.

“Once they adjusted and figured out what it takes to play at this level, they realized how much better and impactful they could be together,” said Washington, who has orchestrated the Lady Lions' return to prominence. “Once they realized that their competitive drives complemented each other, it just kind of skyrocketed both their careers.”

Lucas is now a junior, Bentley a senior, and together they are one of the top backcourt duos in the nation. They lead Penn State in its third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament beginning Sunday, as the No. 3 seed Lady Lions face No. 14 Cal Poly in Baton Rouge, La.

It is the last dance, so to speak, not only for Bentley but also seniors Mia Nickson, Nikki Greene, Giselle Studevent and Ford City's Marisa Wolfe, who has been out all season with a concussion. Having lost in the second round in 2011 and to Connecticut in the Sweet 16 in 2012, Lucas said they hope having more experience will lead to a longer run in 2013. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the past two years, she said, is knowing the game isn't won or lost in the first five minutes.

“It's a long game, and that's something we've taken into games a lot of times this year,” Lucas said. “You have to take the ebbs and flows and the adjustments that need to be made. Other teams are going to make runs, but you have to stick to the game plan.”

Bentley and Lucas recently were named to the WBCA All-Region 6 team. Bentley, who averages 14 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game, also won the France Pomeroy Naismith Award for the nation's outstanding female collegian 5-foot-8 and under.

Lucas leads the Lady Lions in scoring at 20.5 points per game and was named Big Ten Player of the Year after finishing in the top five in the conference in scoring, free-throw percentage (.896), 3-point percentage (.475) and 3-pointers made (96). She is one of 15 finalists for the John R. Wooden Award.

A deep tournament run fueled by Lucas could propel her into the conversation about the nation's best players, discussion that this season involves Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins, Baylor's Brittney Griner and Delaware's Elena Delle Donne.

“She's one of the top five returning players in the nation, in my opinion,” Washington said. “What she's done for this program on and off the court, how she's elevated her game over the course of her career, I think she's All-American next year, and I think she should be one of the premier players in the nation. I think she's going to carry the torch for women's basketball very well.”

ESPN analyst Krista Blunk said it's an important tournament not only for Penn State but also for Lucas.

“She's the next big player to know, and I think people will know a lot more about her after this year,” Blunk said. “She's just a little in the shadow of other players who get more hype, but hopefully she gives us something to let people know who she is.”

Lucas politely deflects talk about awards and individual accolades. Becoming a household name isn't among her priorities.

“I think if that happens, it would mean we had great success as a team, and that's what we're after,” Lucas said. “We want to just keep getting better as a team, and I think that's when individual players get recognized, but our focus is for Penn State to become a household name.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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