Penn State Basketball

Penn State women’s basketball: East leads Lady Lions against Texas A&M

Penn State center Talia East doesn’t think the bobblehead that will be given out before Sunday’s 2 p.m. clash against No. 24 Texas A&M looks a thing like her.

And it really doesn’t bother her in the least, even if she’s taken a little ribbing from her Lady Lion teammates.

“You know what, my mother is still going to love it,” East said. “My mom loves it regardless. That’s all that matters.”

The bobblehead isn’t the only kind of recognition that East is getting these days. The senior has moved into the starting lineup and has been a bright spot so far was the No. 12 Lady Lions (6-3) struggle to find their identity.

Coaches and teammates have praised East’s play so far. The 6-foot-3 center leads the Lady Lions in rebounding with a 6.8 average. She is scoring 6.6 points per game, but leads the team in field goal percentage (52.3).

“Talia’s playing really good basketball for us, probably the best basketball of her career,” Washington said. “She’s being really productive scoring and rebounding the ball.”

“She’s playing great,” reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas said of East. “She’s really doing whatever we need her do. She gets in there and finishes opportunities. She rebounds. She defends. You can’t really ask for much more. She gets in there and does it every game.”

For most of her career, East has been an option off the bench, who saw a lot of her playing time when former center Nikki Greene was in foul trouble.

She did show flashes of stellar play, but this season it has been more evident, especially against the toughest teams on the schedule. She had eight points and 10 rebounds coming off the bench against No. 1 Connecticut and netted 12 points and eight rebounds against No. 4 Notre Dame.

“I think a lot of things got jumpstarted with UConn,” East explained. “Our team learned a lot of lessons, but personally I learned that I’m a good defender. That’s going to jumpstart everything — rebounding, offense. Whenever I play well defensively, it’s like a chain reaction.”

Washington said East’s improved play boils down to a couple of things — experience and confidence.

“I think she just got older,” Washington said. “She plays with a confidence and urgency that seniors play with. She’s doing a lot of the same things, but I just think she’s really comfortable with who she is as a basketball player — what her contributions to the team are and how she contributes to the team.

“She’s really comfortable in defending, rebounding and scoring around the basket. … She’s really figured out what her game is and what her contributions are.”

Washington said East realizes that she’s not going to hoisting 3-pointers and leading the break. East has found her niche around the basket. East like to say her range is “two feet.”

Washington has seen that self-actualization process happen often as players get older.

“I wish they would wait until they were seniors to have that light-bulb moment,” Washington said. “We coach 18 to 22 year-olds. At 18, they don’t have a clue. At 22, it starts to click in. Go figure.”

With seven freshmen on the roster, East is providing an example that knowing and executing a role is important in the final result on the scoreboard.

“She figured out who she was and how she can help this team,” Washington said. “Hopefully, the younger players can look at that and see, “these are the ways I can contribute to success of the team,” and embrace those.”

She’s also provided an example of stellar work ethic as it relates to foul shooting. Prior to this season, she was a career 52 percent shooter from the line. This season, she’s made 13 of 14. Her 93 percent clip is only second to Lucas’s 96.6 percent on the team.

“I’m like, ‘Wow T,’” Washington said of East’s foul shooting. “She put in a lot of work this summer. “

East credits her coach for the remarkable turnaround.

“Somebody is a genius and that genius’ name is Coquese Washington,” East said. “She put some time and effort into my shot. She broke it all of the way down.”

East, who has a wide base, said the difference is keeping her elbow tucked during the shot and taking her time before she launches.

Progress is what East also sees in the Lady Lions. “We’re getting there,” she said. “It’s going to get better.”

The Lady Lions, who suffered an 83-79 upset loss at South Dakota State on Wednesday, will be looking to do something today they haven’t done this season --- beat a ranked team.

The Aggies (5-2) are led by Courtney Walker, who averages 14.0 points per game. Karla Gilbert (11.3) and Achiri Ade (10.1) also score in double figures.

Texas A&M, the 2011 NCAA champion, is 13th in the nation defensively, allowing 54.4 points per game.

“Historically, Texas A&M has been a really athletic team,” Washington said. “They’ve been a very aggressive defensive team. They like to get up and play 94 feet, press and pressure and do all of those things on the defensive end to create offense.”

Notes: Penn State defeated Texas A&M 63-58 at College Station last year to square the all-time series at 1-1. … Penn State is 21-27 all-time against Southeastern Conference teams. … Texas A&M has not played a ranked team this season. … The Aggies have won three straight and five of their last six against ranked teams on the road.