Penn State’s Maggie Lucas has the bar set pretty high by her coach.
“I expect her to score 40 every night,” Penn State women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington said with a chuckle on Monday. “I think she’s underachieved some nights when she gets 22 or 25.”
The Big Ten coaches and media thought Lucas achieved quite a bit this season. Both groups voted Lucas the conference’s Player of the Year as the junior guard led a big Penn State haul of postseason honors.
Washington, who led the No. 8 Lady Lions (24-4) to their second consecutive Big Ten regular-season title, received Coach of the Year honors from the media.
Point guard Alex Bentley joined Lucas on the First Team. The senior and teammate Dara Taylor also received All-Defensive Team honors from the coaches. Center Nikki Greene earned a Third Team selection from the coaches and an Honorable Mention pick by the media.
Lucas finished third in the league in scoring with a 20.5 scoring average and is fourth nationally by making 47 percent of her 3-point attempts. Lucas also was 15th in the conference in shooting percentage (45.2), third in free throw percentage (89.8) and seventh in steals (2.3). She also had a career high with 4.5 rebounds per game.
But it’s offense that Lucas is known for and she delivered most nights. She scored in double figures in all 16 league games and had 20 or more points in half of them.
“I expect her to make every shot,” Washington said. “She puts in the work. Usually if she’s taking good shots, she’s got a great chance of it going in.”
Washington said Lucas’ shot selection has been a big improvement this season.
“She doesn’t take very many bad shots,” Washington said. “She takes the shots that she wants to take and she’s grown patient. She’s not going to allow the defense to make her take shots that she doesn’t want to take.”
Lucas, known primarily as a 3-point bomber in her first season, has added much to her game. Lucas already is seventh in program history with 1.769 points.
“She’s a scorer,” Washington said. “She can put the ball into the basket in a variety of ways. She can certainly shoot the three. She can put it on the floor. She can get to the basket. She can finish with both hands. She can shot-fake, take one or two dribbles and pull up. She’s added those things to her game since she’s walked on campus. She’s not settling for just being a 3-point shooter, although she really loves making threes.”
Bentley, a First Team pick for the third time in her career, also put up big numbers this season. The point guard led the league and is fourth nationally with 3.7 steals per game. In the Big Ten, Bentley was 11th in scoring (14.0), ninth in assists per game (3.6) and ninth in free throw percentage (81.3). She’s eighth on the school’s scoring list with 1,726 points.
Washington said numbers don’t tell the true story of Bentley’s importance to the Lady Lions.
“Statistically, she’s never led this team in scoring ... but her impact by allowing us to play uptempo allows us to score a lot of points,” Washington said. “Her growth defensively has allowed to become a better defensive team. Her competitive fire and her will to win are the two intangibles that helped turn this program around.”
The Lady Lions had four consecutive losing seasons before Bentley and the current senior class arrived. Since then, the Lady Lions have improved each season, going 17-14, 25-10 and 26-7 before this season.
“She’s a winner,” Washington said. “Her teams have won. She got better every single year that she was here — her play, her performance, her maturity and her leadership. The program reflects that.”
Washington also has seen the program make giant strides under her leadership. This season, the Lady Lions had a 14-2 mark in Big Ten play, just a game off the school mark for the 16-game league schedule, and won their first back-to-back conference titles since the 2003 and 2004 seasons. They were ranked in the Top 10 most of the season. She is the first Penn State coach since Rene Portland in 2003 and 2004 to win consecutive Coach of the Year honors. Nebraska coach Connie Yori, who led the Cornhuskers to a second-place finish, was voted the Coach of the Year by her peers.
Greene is the only player in school history to record 1,000 points, 900 rebounds and 200 blocks. This season, the senior is fifth in the league in rebounding (8.5), ninth in blocks (1.3) and 11th in field goal percentage (46.7).
“Nikki has had a quietly impressive career here at Penn State,” Washington said in a university release. “She had a strong season for us and has been a big impact in games, especially in the second half. She is, quite simply, an imposing force at both ends of the floor.”
Taylor, a junior transfer from Maryland, made her biggest impact on the defensive end. She was fourth in the league with 2.6 steals per game and created countless other turnovers with her harassing defense.
“Her speed, quickness and fast hands helped us improve tremendously on defense,” Washington said. “She brought an enthusiastic effort to playing defense and that rubbed off on the rest of her teammates.”
Gizelle Studevent was Penn State’s selection for the Sportsmanship Award.
Lucas, on the coaches squad, was the only unanimous selection. Joining Lucas and Bentley on both the coaches and media first teams were Ohio State’s Taylor Hill and Nebraska’s Jordan Hooper. Minnesota’s Rachel Banham was a coaches pick and Illinois’ Karisma Penn made the media squad.
Illinois’ Adrienne GodBold was Defensive Player of the Year. Joining GodBold, Bentley and Taylor on that squad were Ohio State’s Hill and Amber Stokes.
Northwestern’s Maggie Lyon was voted the Freshman of the Year on both ballots. Iowa’s Melissa Dixon received the Sixth Player of the Year award from the coaches.
The top-seeded Lady Lions open the Big Ten Tournament at 7 p.m. Friday against the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 8 Minnesota (18-12) and No. 9 Ohio State (17-12).