Penn State Lady Lions
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RECORD: 28 - 6
REGION: East SEED: 1
COACH: Rene Portland CONFERENCE: Big Ten
Road to the Final Four ...................................................................................
Tanisha Wright is going to be the next great player out of the Big Ten. She's a little reminiscent of Nykesha Sales -- Wright can shoot, penetrate, is great off the dribble and gets after you defensively. She's also one of four Penn State players averaging double-figures scoring, and that balance is one of Penn State's greatest strengths. The Lady Lions love to shoot, and have attempted 135 more 3-pointers than their opponents this season. So it's tough to keep up with them offensively. Now they just need to keep hitting their shots.
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Remember that horrible song Woody Harrelson wrote for his girlfriend on Cheers? The redundant lyrics pretty much consisted of him saying her name, "Kelly, Kelly, Kelly" over and over again. Well, that also pretty much sums up the Penn State and Big Ten record books. Mazzante, a 6-foot senior guard, is one of the best pure scorers in the history of the game and will leave Happy Valley holding more records than we have room to list. The best? No-brainer: On Jan. 22, Mazzante became the all-time leading scorer in Big Ten history for men and women. With 2,861 points, she just broke into the NCAA's top-10 scoring list -- but already ranks third in 3-pointers made (350) and is just 41 shy of the all-time record. The Big Ten's only four-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, Mazzante averaged 20.6 points in the regular season. Double-team? No way. She's seen it before ... and beat it time and again. Don't blink. You'll miss her quick-trigger release.
ANALYSIS BY ESPN'S STACEY DALES-SCHUMAN
With one of the toughest schedules in women's basketball, Penn State had a rough road laid out before the season began. After though they started with wins against legitimate programs such as LSU, Kansas State, Texas and Baylor, the Lady Lions hit a small road bump toward the end of December, suffering consecutive losses to the athletic Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters and North Carolina Tar Heels.
Needless to say, those losses were instrumental in preparing Rene Portland's team for what was to come -- another Big Ten regular-season championship. Having reached the Sweet 16 the past two seasons, Penn State is starving for a bigger helping of what the NCAA Tournament can serve up.
Having returned virtually the same cast from last year's run, Penn State is better this time around because of increased balance, depth and size. Four players score in double figures and four players average more than four rebounds per contest. The Lady Lions have so much more size, in fact, that they've been nationally ranked all season in the shot block column with almost five per game. In terms of added depth, Portland has the luxury of legitimately utilizing eight bodies, which will pay dividends in the tournament.
Senior sniper Kelly Mazzante has done her job thus far. She became the conferences all-time leading scorer in January, surpassing the prolific Katie Smith of Ohio State. Mazzante has averaged her typical 21 points while also snagging four boards -- an area that has improved perhaps because Mazzante is more physically adept than ever before.
While Mazzante continues to score, the play around her has become much more supportive. Senior forward Jess Brungo, a versatile inside/outside role player, junior guard Tanisha Wright, a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and junior guard Jess Strom, the team's playmaker, have combined to account for 36 of the Lady Lions' 72-point offensive average.
The consistency has been impressive. Strom entered the season in excellent form and hasn't missed a beat, dishing out almost six assists per outing. The acquisition of freshman center Reicina Russell has proven advantageous for Penn State. At 6 feet 6, she gives the program speed and punch inside and leads the team with nearly seven caroms and two blocks.
Watch for Penn State to take excellent care of the basketball and make good overall decisions. With especially solid perimeter play and experience, the Lady Lions average only 13 turnovers per game. Ultimately, you're looking at a prime candidate for this season's Final Four.