Numbers never lie.
Teams, players, fans hear that a lot in sports.
Need to evaluate a team or player? Just go to the statistics and you have your answer.
Penn State coach Coquese Washington doesn’t believe that’s always the case, especially when you’re looking at Maggie Lucas’ numbers this season.
While she is second in the Big Ten in scoring with a 21-point average, Lucas is having the worst shooting season of her Penn State career.
Lucas, a career 43 percent shooter from both the field and 3-point range over her first three seasons, is shooting 38 percent from the floor and 34 percent from 3-point range this season.
Washington jokes that Lucas is now shooting numbers “that normal basketball players shoot.”
But Washington is dead serious when asked why those percentages for the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year have come down.
Washington admits that Lucas is receiving more attention from opponents, but the coach points more toward changes in the Lady Lion lineup. Gone are Alex Bentley, Nikki Greene and Mia Nickson — three starters who Lucas had played with in her first three seasons.
“When you play with a core group for three years — and an extremely talented core group — you develop a rhythm, a comfort level,” Washington said. “They know what you’re going to do and you know what they’re going to do every time down the floor. It makes it easier for her play the way she was grew accustomed to playing.
“This year, she’s getting a little bit of increased attention, but she has got attention every year since she has been here. This team plays a lot different than the other three teams she’s played on. It’s a little bit different, so the looks she gets are a little bit different.”
Lucas agrees that the shots that she’s taking are not the same.
“It’s a different year than what I have been used to and the shots that I’ve been used to getting,” said the program’s second-leading scorer with 2,299 points. “It’s something that gets better. The last game is better than the game before. It’s just an adjustment.”
It’s not just the type of shots, but Lucas has also increased the volume. She’s averaging 17 shots a game, up from 13.7 over her first three seasons.
“She’s got to take more shots for this team than she did last year,” Washington said.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair agrees.
“You see Kobe Bryant go 7 for 24 and his team wins a lot of the times,” Blair said after the Lady Lions beat the Aggies 66-58 earlier this season. “Sometimes, forget the 7 for 20, Lucas might have on an off night. Look what she does for the other people.”
Fellow starters Ariel Edwards (14.7), Dara Taylor (11.7), Talia East (7.6) and Tori Waldner (4.9) are all have career-high averages.
Washington also said Lucas has inherited another shooting role.
“One other thing that sometimes is forgotten is that Alex Bentley took a lot of shots for us at the end of the shot clock for us in (Maggie’s) three years,” Washington said. “Now, Maggie is taking those shots. When you shoot a lot of shots at the end of the shot clock, that impacts your shooting percentage. You’re not necessarily getting the great look that you will get normally in the offense.
“In Maggie’s first three years, she shared that responsibility with not just one other person but a couple of other people. This year, she’s carrying that a lot more, especially early in the season. That impacts your shooting percentage.”
Lucas, who was 7 for 21 from the floor in Thursday’s 73-70 upset loss to Iowa, wants to bring up the percentages.
“I pay attention to them,” she said. “It’s something I like to work on.”
Players approach the offensive numbers differently.
“Personally, I don’t pay a lot of attention to it,” Edwards said. “Because the kind of player I am, I sometimes focus too much on that and it takes away from my game.”
Edwards prefers to be critiqued by her position coaches and Washington, but admits the team statistics are good indicators of how well a team is doing.
“The numbers do generally tell the truth,” she said. “The best teams in the country usually have the best percentages in certain areas.”
While the points from the field have been tougher to come by for Lucas, she’s still scoring more points per game than she has before.
One reason is she’s getting to the foul line more often and when she’s there she rarely misses. Lucas has made 130 of 135 attempts, a nation-leading 96 percent. She’s shooting that percentage will playing a team-leading 34 minutes per game.
Lucas said the new emphasis on hand-check fouls actually has been a blessing for her.
“The way they’re calling the game this year is different which has helped me get to the line a little more,” she said.
When all of the number talk is said and done, Washington points to the Lady Lions’ record.
“I am not focused on her shooting percentage,” Washington said. “I’m focused on the wins and losses. With the way that she’s played and the way that she’s carried this team on the offensive end of the floor in particular has helped us to a good win-loss record.
“I haven’t lost one night of sleep worrying about Maggie Lucas’ shooting percentage. I think she’s taking great shots. I think she’s made a lot of tough shots. I think as the season has gone on, her teammates have learned how to play with her.”
The numbers Washington would like to see is similar numbers from the Lady Lions’ first meeting against the Buckeyes (14-12, 4-6). Penn State held Ohio State to 29.6 percent shooting in a 66-42 romp at the Jordan Center.
The Lady Lions frustrated Ohio State’s top scorer Ameryst Alston to 4 of 17 shooting and dominated the boards with a 54-36 edge.
The Buckeyes have lost three of four.