Jess Strom knows what it’s like to play a lot of point guard.
When she starred at Penn State from 2002-2005, it was routine for Strom to play nearly every minute because she was the team’s only true point guard.
When the first-year California, Pa., head coach returned to her alma mater for an exhibition game Saturday, she got a chance to see something novel — a Lady Lion team with two point guards.
Alex Bentley and Dara Taylor pushed the pace as the No. 8 Lady Lions throttled the Division II Vulcans 95-39. Bentley had 16 points, four assists and three steals in the romp, while Taylor added seven points, five assists and three steals.
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Strom, fourth in career assists (776) and 12th in scoring (1,466) for Penn State, gave rave reviews to the Lady Lion point guard tandem, which often played together Saturday.
“Just from afar, I’ve loved Alex Bentley,” said Strom. “From the day she came as a freshman, I said she’s going to be something special. ... I’m proud to say she passes on the tradition. She fits right in there.
“Her backup (Taylor) that played today, she’s going to be pretty nice, too.”
While Strom said she never wanted to come off the floor when she led the Lady Lions to four consecutive NCAA Tournament berths and a pair of Big Ten regular-season crowns, she does see the advantages of having two standout point guards.
“It’s nice. With foul trouble, you never know what’s going to happen,” Strom said. “An injury, it’s nice to have two people that can come in. You never know when one is going to have a bad day. Two is always better.”
Bentley agrees and enjoys getting a chance to move to the No. 2 guard when she and Taylor, who sat out last season after transferring from Maryland, are on the floor together.
“I love playing with Dara,” said Bentley, the Big Ten’s co-Preseason Player of the Year. “I know when she steps on the court, we’re about to be playing a lot faster. As you saw in the game, we had a lot of fastbreak opportunities with ‘D’ we get after it on the defensive end an it turns into transition points. Her bringing up the ball is nice. I like playing the (No. 2 guard) some. It’s a good look.”
Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington agrees.
“We’re pretty fast and they can get up and down the court,” said Washington said. “It really pushes tempo. It allows Alex to get on the receiving end and be a finisher as opposed to simply a distributor and she’s pretty good at finishing.
“It gives us a little bit of versatility and the ability to have two point guards on the floor, two playmakers, two people who can score and make plays for other people. I think it’s a good luxury for us to have.”
Bentley started quickly, scoring eight of the Lady Lions’ first 18 points. Taylor played stronger in the second half, threading the needle with several fine passes as the Lady Lions, who shot 60 percent (36 for 60), pulled away.
“I was really excited before the game,” said Taylor, who set a freshman assist record while at Maryland. “It’s been awhile since I got to play a game. My teammates played great so it was easy for me to get comfortable during the game.”
As expected, the game itself wasn’t much of a contest. The Vulcans led briefly 3-2 after a 3-pointer from Stephanie Michael on their first possession, but it mostly all Penn State from there.
The Lady Lions led by as many as 33 points (45-12) after a Gizelle Studevent layup with 4:33 left in the half. The Lady Lions led 48-23 at the break.
Center Nikki Greene dominated the final 20 minutes, scoring 15 of her 18 points and grabbing six of her game-high 11 rebounds.
Maggie Lucas led the Lady Lions with 19 points and had four steals. Ariel Edwards, who joined four returnees in the starting lineup, added 12 points, seven rebounds and four steals. Mia Nickson and Studevent contributed nine and eight points, respectively, as every Lady Lion who dressed for the game scored.
Penn State held Cal to 18 percent shooting (13-for-72) and forced 27 turnovers. It was a far better defensive effort than the Lady Lions had in an 101-81 preseason win over Bloomsburg last season, something that was hard for the Lady Lions to forget.
“Defense is always a focus for us,” Lucas said. “We know that we have enough offensive firepower to score. It’s really a matter if we’re going to get out and defense and stick to our principles.”
The numbers weren’t all great for the Lady Lions. The committed 27 turnovers and gave up 23 offensive rebounds to the smaller Vulcans.
“I thought we had stretches of the game where we didn’t play as smart as we’re capable of making,” Washington said. “... We’ve got to be a little bit more disciplined on both ends of the floor, but I’m satisfied with where we are.”
“I thought we played really hard,” Lucas said. “The great thing about a game like this is it gives you an opportunity to see things that you can work on for the next couple of weeks.”
Penn State did not get to see the debut of freshman center Candice Agee, who missed the contest with a dislocated finger on her left (no shooting-hand). Washington said Agee would be available for the season opener Nov. 11 against Howard at home. Forward Marisa Wolfe also missed the contest with lingering effects from a concussion.
Stephanie Michael had 11 points to pace the Vulcans.