Penn State Basketball

Walt Moody | Penn State women’s basketball: More than game lost in NCAA tournament

Penn State’s Dara Taylor (2) and the rest of the senior Lady Lions saw their college careers come to an end in Sunday’s loss to Stanford.
Penn State’s Dara Taylor (2) and the rest of the senior Lady Lions saw their college careers come to an end in Sunday’s loss to Stanford. AP photo

The Penn State women’s basketball program lost a lot more than a Sweet 16 game on Sunday afternoon in sunny California.

With the 82-57 defeat at the hands of Stanford at the Maples Pavilion, four Lady Lion seniors — Maggie Lucas, Ariel Edwards, Dara Taylor and Talia East — had their careers draw to a close.

And those empty uniforms will be hard for Coquese Washington and her staff to fill.

The numbers tell the story of just how important those four players were to the program this past season.

To say this was a senior-driven team is an understatement.

Lucas (21.0), Edwards (15.7) Taylor (11.7) and East (8.1) provided 75 percent of the team’s 75.1 points per game.

That’s just a start.

The quartet provided 81 percent of the team’s 411 assists, 75 percent of its 272 steals, 47 percent of the 43.9 rebounds per game and 43 percent of the 150 blocks.

Those numbers don’t include the losses in intangibles and leadership.

Throw in the graduation of Alex Bentley, Nikki Greene and Mia Nickson the previous season and Washington’s program basically has undergone a complete turnover from the players that as East said, “did a great job of bringing Penn State back into the light” after four consecutive losing seasons.

Now, Penn State faces another supreme challenge.

Let’s take a look at the roster.

Tori Waldner, the only rising senior and returning starter, is the team leader at 4.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. She is the only player on the roster to see more than 20 minutes per game.

Candace Agee, the lone rising junior, averaged about 10 minutes and 3.1 points per game.

Kaliyah Mitchell (4.5 ppg) and Peyton Whitted (3.1 ppg) were the two members of the season’s freshmen class of five to see consistent action.

Freshmen Alex Harris, Jenny DeGraaf and Keke Sevillian did not see significant action over the last month of the season and did not play more than two minutes each in any postseason game. Seldom-used Infiniti Alston, also a member of the freshmen class, left the program in December.

And as of right now, there’s no cavalry riding in to save the day. Penn State did not land a freshman recruit for next fall. Given that the Lady Lions brought in seven freshmen last season, you could see why Washington needed to be picky and why some recruits would be wary of heading to Penn State.

So where are the points and rebounds coming from next season? It’s a good question.

Waldner, a solid rebounder and shot blocker, will have to push her game to a new level to reach double figures in scoring.

The 6-foot-6 Agee can intimidate inside, but hasn’t scored in double figures in Big Ten play.

Mitchell and Whitted are good rebounders and have shown flashes on offense, mostly around the basket. Harris, DeGraaf and Sevillian all averaged a basket or less per game.

No one left on the roster made more than four 3-pointers this past season.

So where is the offense coming from?

The answer could be from two current players who Penn State fans have never seen in uniform.

Sierra Moore sat out the season per NCAA rules after transferring from Duke. She averaged 2.5 points as a freshman for the Blue Devils while playing out of her natural position as a shooting guard. She has three more seasons of eligibility at Penn State.

If her high school career at Delone Catholic is any indication, Moore can score. She put up 2,595 career points, including a 24.7 average as a senior. Moore, ranked among the top 50 players in the country, was voted the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year as senior.

Lindsey Spann was supposed to play this season, but those plans changed when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during an offseason workout in July. Spann received a medical redshirt for the season.

According to some experts, Spann was the most college-ready of any of the seven freshmen recruits. Spann averaged 15.9 points and 5.3 assists per game at Good Counsel High School in Laurel, Md.

So Moore and Spann, who made a remarkable recovery from her injury, are unofficially the incoming Class of 2014.

What makes them different than any newcomers is that they already have a season in Washington’s system. They got time with and against the Lady Lions on the practice floor. They also got to see Big Ten basketball up close and personal.

But, neither are proven commodities for the Lady Lions yet.

Talk about a mystery team.

Certainly next season, the three-time defending Big Ten regular-season champions aren’t going to be among the conference favorites.

And Washington, the three-time reigning Coach of the Year, faces one of the biggest challenges she’s seen since putting the program back in the national spotlight.

Her eighth season at the helm should be an interesting one.