Alex Harris had no impact as the season started for Penn State women’s basketball team.
The sophomore missed the first 10 games for “personal reasons.”
But back on the floor and seeing her minutes increase, the 6-foot-3 forward is making her presence felt.
Entering Sunday’s 2 p.m. clash against Minnesota at the Bryce Jordan Center, Harris has been a force on the boards for the Lady Lions (6-19 overall, 3-11 Big Ten).
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Harris has been pivotal in two of the Lady Lions’ recent league wins. She scored a career-high 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 76-75 upset of Northwestern and last Sunday she had a career-high 13 rebounds and four blocked shots in a 54-50 victory against Purdue.
In limited action this season, Harris is still second on the squad with 6.1 rebounds per game. She averages a rebound for every 21/2 minutes she plays.
“She’s a rebounding machine and her athleticism in the post is something that is really positive feature for us,” Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said. “When she comes into the game she always makes an impact on the defensive end and rebounding, allowing us to get out in transition. We need it. We need her defensive prowess, her rebounding.”
Harris is under no illusion that she’s coming into the game to pile up points.
“We all have our roles,” the Lorian, Ohio native said. “They are written down. Co says I am a great rebounder and that’s what I do. If I can’t score or do anything else, I’m going to make sure I’m going to get the ball and get the rebound.”
What makes a great rebounder?
Washington said it is a combination of things, but the most important is the ability to get off the floor quickly.
“She has a good knack and instinct for the ball but her quick jumping is a part of it,” Washington said of Harris. “She’s often the first person to the ball. If you can be the first person to the ball, you’ve got a better chance of getting it.”
Harris said she’s spent time both with Washington and assistant coach Itoro Coleman refining her technique.
“I focused on grabbing the ball with two hands, just going after it,” she said.
Harris is happy to be getting significant minutes since she started the season away from the program. She did not play during the first semester and got her first taste of action against South Florida in the final non-conference game.
Harris said she prefers to keep the nature of her absence personal but thinks that the time away was more of a benefit than a hindrance.
“It’s been a big process, a big learning process for me,” she said. “It would have helped if I played, but I don’t think it set me back. It gave me some time off. It was much-needed time off. I think it might have helped.”
Teammates, who are going through the midst of the worst season in program history, are glad she is back to help.
“She’s a huge key to our success,” guard Keke Sevillian said. “We all have those roles and we are a puzzle piece to complete that puzzle. Her piece is rebounding. She’s a monster on the boards.”
Washington said that Harris’ return was relatively seamless.
“She’s doing a great job,” Washington said. “To her credit, she’s come in and tried to fit in with what we’re doing. We haven’t had to adjust what we’re doing to fit Alex. She found her role and her place so that she can contribute to what we’re doing.
“She’s a kid who wants to fit in and be a part of the team,” Washington added. “… She’s an ultimate team player. Right now, we need her to be a great defender and rebounder and that’s what she’s putting her focus on.”
Harris hopes her play translates into more playing time. After 13 rebounds against Purdue, she grabbed seven more in a 74-67 loss against Michigan State on Wednesday.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Harris said. “These last couple of games have been really good for me. I’m looking forward to the next couple of games.”
Harris will need to be good inside if the Lady Lions are to knock off the Golden Gophers (19-6, 8-5). Intimidating center Amanda Zahui B. had a triple-double (16 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocks) as Minnesota knocked off Penn State 75-64 on Jan 28. For the season, the 6-foot-5 sophomore is averaging 17.8 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.
“We’ve got to do a better job of limiting her effectiveness,” said Washington, whose team lost a 12-point second-half lead to the Gophers. “They made a lot of threes (10) against our zone so we have to shore up our rotations in the zone.”
Notes: Penn State is 27-13 in the series against Minnesota, including 16-3 at home. … Peyton Whitted had a career-high 16 points against the Gophers earlier this season. … Penn State had a season-low 11 turnovers against the Gophers. … Penn State’s worst Big Ten season was 4-14 in 2008. ... Minnesota can clinch its first 20-win season since 2008.