Talia East isn’t used to a lot of fanfare.
The 6-foot-3 junior comes in to spell Nikki Greene, often when the starting center is in foul trouble. East’s job is to play defense, grab rebounds and set screens. An occasional basket is a luxury.
East though stepped to the NCAA Tournament forefront though in Sunday’s 85-55 opening round win over Cal Poly. East was one of the “Big Mamas” that Mustangs coach Faith Mimnaugh said the biggest effect on her team’s loss.
East played a season-high 22 minutes and doubled her season-high with 12 rebounds. She also played solid defense against Cal Poly’s Molly Schlemer, who scored 12 early points to give the Mustangs a 17-16 lead.
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“Being able to come in and doing what I could made me happy,” said East, who also doubled her season scoring average with four points.
“Talia did a great job,” teammate Ariel Edwards said. “She came in rebounded the ball, defended. She did her job.”
East never knows what is going to be the duration of her job. She could play eight minutes or 20.
“You never know if Nikki is going to get into foul trouble or how the game is going to go,” she said. “ I take the same approach every day — come in and do what you can and be ready at all times. I usually know that when Nikki gets her first foul that I’m going to go in. I know I’m going to play. I’m just trying to always stay ready.”
Penn State, a team known primarily for its guard play, got 28 points and 35 rebounds from post players Mia Nickson, Greene, East, Tori Waldner and Candice Agee.
“It was good to see the posts contribute in a big way, not only defensively, but offensively. Mia (13 points) had a really good night. Seeing the posts come in and do their thing is really good. We’ve got these great guards, so we try to balance them out.”
East also serves a role in keeping the team loose during the most stressful part of the season.
When the media entered the locker room on Monday, East was leading games of “Four pictures, one word” and “Hangman.”
She said having veterans of three consecutive NCAA trips helps keep the atmosphere light.
“You’re not walking around as tight thinking, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m so nervous,’” East said. “You’re definitely better off if you’ve been there a couple of times.”
No bench warmers
East was part of a solid afternoon for Penn State’s reserves on Sunday. Edwards netted nine points and Gizelle Studevent sank 2 of 4 field goal attempts.
“I feel like our bench always puts that burden on ourselves,” Edwards said. “We want to make sure when we get into the game to not let the play drop off. We did well.”
“It was awesome,” added Studevent. “It’s great going in to be able help and to contribute to the team, especially in the NCAA Tournament. This is the fun part of the year.”
It’s not the knee
Studevent continues to wear a large brace on her left leg, but it has nothing to do with a knee injury.
Handling the ball on a fastbreak in a recent practice, Studevent passed the ball and fell on her knee, but strained her hamstring.
Studevent said the brace actually prevents her knee from extending fully, which puts pressure on the hamstring.
“It hurts during the game, but I’ve been taking care of it and icing it,” Studevent said. “It’s a lot better than what it was.”
While she is in pain, Studevent said she will play. “I’m just sucking it up because this is it,” she said. “I’m a senior and I don’t want to be sitting on the bench.”
The two best scorers in the game have a little bit of history together.
Penn State’s Maggie Lucas (20.5 ppg) and LSU’s Theresa Plaisance (17.3 ppg) played in the 2010 McDonalds All-America game after their senior seasons in high school.
Together, they won a championship — in the game Rock Band — during the week and developed a friendship.
“We have been very close ever since then.” Plaisance said. “Maggie Lucas is one of those players that you know she’s a special player.”
By the numbers
In three NCAA Tournament games at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Lucas is averaging 24.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.3 steals. PSU’s Alex Bentley is averaging 17.2 points, 3.5 assists and 1.7 steals in six NCAA Tournament games. With her start against Cal Poly, Nikki Greene broke Kelly Mazzante’s record of 129 consecutive starts. Greene will break Mazzante’s career starts mark with her 131st start Tuesday. Penn State is 23-27 all-time against Southeastern Conference teams. Penn State is 30-23 in NCAA Tournament games. LSU is 40-21 in the NCAA Tournament and have been to five Final Fours (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008). LSU has a 14-3 record in the NCAAs on its home court. All three losses have come in the second round.