This group of Penn State womens basketball players has netted nearly every Big Ten honor available.
The Lady Lions have back-to-back regular season championships.
They feature the new Big Ten Player of the Year, two first team all-conference members and two all-defensive team members. In fact, every member of the starting lineup has been honored at some point by the leagues coaches or media.
But there is one glaring omission from Impressive list of individual and team accomplishments a Big Ten Tournament title.
The top-seeded Lady Lions (24-4) begin the quest for that elusive trophy outside of Chicago at 7 p.m. Friday against ninth-seeded Ohio State. The Buckeyes (18-12) defeated No. 8 Minnesota 58-47 at the Sears Centre in Thursdays opening round. The Lady Lions had a bye.
These Penn State players are not alone having come up short in the Big Ten Tournament. The Lady Lions havent won the event since 1996. That means greats including Kelly Mazzante, Tanisha Wright and Helen Darling have never hoisted that piece of Big Ten hardware.
Penn State will come into Fridays game among the top two seeded teams for the 10-th time since the tourney began in 1995. The Lady Lions won the first two, but havent won since. Theyve been the runner-up four times, the last time in 2011.
What makes winning the event so difficult?
Its a grind three games in three days, said Penn State coach Coquese Washington. Thats it in a nutshell.
Alex Bentley, playing her fourth Big Ten tourney, agrees. Three games, three days, thats the tough part, the first team all-league pick said. You have to get rest and your body has to be ready for the next game.
That pounding affects players both physically and mentally. No team that has played all four days of the event has won it.
It takes a toll on your body, newly crowned Player of the Year Maggie Lucas said. So, its going to take every single one of us to do it. College basketball, especially in the Big Ten is very physical. The day after a game, youre pretty beat up. To play three games in a row its very difficult. Its going to be the team thats most mentally focused and ready to execute and get stops.
Washington said the tournament also can be decided by matchups. Some teams, regardless of records, provide tougher matchups than others.
And then, theres the familiarity factor.
On any given night, anyone can be beat, Nikki Greene said. You play against each other maybe two times each season. By the third time, youre able to study peoples tapes and make changes for the best to compete against the top dog. It makes it kind of hard because everybody is after the top dog.
Ohio State was used to running with the big dogs until this season. The Buckeyes got off to a terrible start, but won six of their last eight to finish the regular season 7-9 in league play.
Jim Fosters club is led by Tayler Hill, a two-time all-league first team selection. Hill, who averaged 21 points per game in the regular season, had 25 against Minnesota on Thursday.
Ohio State is definitely a guard team, Greene said. Tayler Hill is one of the best players. Shes capable of doing anything. She likes to penetrate and drive and shes capable of shooting 3-pointers.
In the only meeting this season, the Lady Lions trailed Ohio State 37-28 at the half, but pummeled the Buckeyes over the final 20 minutes to win 71-56. Lucas had 18 points and Bentley added 16 in the win.
Hill had 28 points.
Fosters team has improved since that contest. Were playing very well, he told the Big Ten Network after the opening-round win. Were looking forward to tomorrow night. Were looking forward to playing another game. Were one of the few teams in the country who can make a statement at this time of year that were getting better.
Washington likes where her team is right now. After a hiccup at Minnesota last Thursday, the Lady Lions rebounded by whipping second-place Nebraska 82-67 on Sunday.
I think well go into the tournament confident we can play well and that we can put together three good nights of basketball, Washington said. Thats the goal. But, well start with one. Well start with playing well on Friday. If we can play well on Friday, then well go from there.
Her players hope that leads to a championship moment on Sunday. They do not have to be reminded about whats missing from the trophy case.
It would mean a lot, Bentley said of a tournament title. Thats what everybody signed up for.
It would be phenomenal, Greene added. It would be something that everybody dreamed about.
Since weve been here we were able to accomplish the Big Ten regular season title. It would be awesome to leave Penn State with the tournament title as well.
Notes: Penn State is 24-16 all-time in the tournament. The Buckeyes are 30-14 with tournament titles in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Penn State is 33-21 all-time against the Buckeyes and has won the last two meetings. Ohio State beat Penn State 84-70 in the 2011 title game. Penn State is 4-5 against the Buckeyes in tournament play.