Tick, tick, tick, tick.
The clock is winding down on the careers of four Penn State seniors.
With Sunday’s 1 p.m. women’s basketball contest against Wisconsin, Maggie Lucas, Ariel Edwards, Talia East and Dara Taylor have just four more regular-season games left in their careers at Penn State.
Don’t expect any of those players to start waxing poetic about their time in a Lady Lion uniform. They are more focused about staying atop the Big Ten standings. The two-time defending champions (19-5 overall, 10-2 league) lead Nebraska (8-3) and and Michigan State (8-3).
“You kind of can’t help but think it’s starting to wind down a little bit,” said Lucas, who is the fifth-leading scorer in Big Ten history with 2,354 points. “With every game being so important right now, my focus is just one game at a time, living in the moment, one practice at a time. Every game is huge right now.”
“I haven’t thought about it too much,” added Taylor. “We’re just kind of focused on the games here. As it gets closer to that senior night, it will start to hit me more. Right now, we’ve got a big opportunity in front of us. We’ve got a bunch of games that we have to go out and compete in.”
Penn State coach Coquese Washington said that sense of urgency about this season is being transferred to the youngest of players on the roster.
“I had lunch with (freshman) Keke (Sevillian) and she was talking about the importance of finishing the season strong and how the team is locked in,” Washington said. “That shows me that the seniors and upper classmen are doing their jobs in terms of helping them understand the context and perspective that we have to have at this point in the season.”
The Lady Lions know how much the end of the regular season can influence where they’re placed in the NCAA Tournament. And with a possible pair of games at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Lady Lions want to be seeded as high as possible.
“The committee looks at your whole season,” Taylor said. “A lot of teams let up at the end of the season. They get caught up in their conference tournament and they can lose a couple of games down the stretch. That hurts your chances.”
“It’s important to win, especially at this time of year to make your resume better and better for the NCAA seeding,” Lucas added.
Sunday’s game is one of three home games left in the regular season and one of the most highly anticipated by the players.
The contest is the team’s annual Pink Zone clash, which raises money for breast cancer research and honors cancer survivors.
“It means so much,” said Lucas. “It’s our favorite game of the year every year. To be able to have this huge game where all of these breast cancer survivors are honored, it’s unbelievable. It gives you chills every year and it’s one of the best things we do.”
“It’s amazing,” Taylor agreed. “The whole gym is pink. We get to wear our pink jerseys and socks. They bring the survivors in which is really cool. It’s just amazing the support and how big it is here at Penn State. It’s an amazing day.”
The contest always provides the largest crowd of the season. Last season’s Pink Zone game drew a crowd of more than 14,000.
“Oh my gosh, it’s unbelievable,” Lucas said mid-week. “I walked by the ticket office the other day and they were saying it’s already over 10,000. It’s exciting. That’s the kind of crowd you dream about playing in front of.”
“You get some fans that you haven’t gotten all season,” Taylor said. “When you make big plays or big things happen, the crowd goes crazy. It gets super loud.”
The Lady Lions hope to continue their winning ways in Pink Zone games against the Badgers (10-14, 3-9).
Wisconsin has lost seven of eight, including a 63-50 loss against Minnesota on Wednesday.
The Badgers are led by 6-foot-3 junior center Michala Johnson, who is averaging 16.4 points per game. Morgan Paige (12.5) and Taylor Wurtz (12.4) also are scoring in double figures.
“Michala Johnson is playing really well for them,” Washington said. “She’s giving them good minutes and scoring for them inside.
“They’ve always been a tough defensive team and they do good job of trying to take away your first option.”
Lucas said the Lady Lions are determined to keep their lead.
“It’s really on us to take care of business.” she said. “It is in our hands. We have control of our own destiny and we like that.”