By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After sitting out the 2011-2012 season because of NCAA transfer rules and watching her teammates win the Big Ten regular season title and advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, Dara Taylor was eager to get back on the court in 2012.
Now, as the calendars have turned to 2013 not only has a new year begun, but also the growth of Taylor's confidence as a guard for the No. 8 ranked Penn State Lady Lions (12-2, 2-0 Big Ten) has started to reach a brand new level.
Penn State started Big Ten play with a sloppy shooting day in a win over Northwestern and simply needed someone to jump-start its offense in the second game of conference play on Jan. 6 at Michigan State, a place where the Lady Lions haven't had much success in recent years.
It wasn't a flashy string of layups from Alex Bentley or a few Maggie Lucas signature three pointers, it was the confidence of Taylor that induced an 18 point performance that led Penn State to a 76-55 win over the Spartans.
"I think Coquese (Washington) had a lot to do with that," said assistant coach Fred Chimel. "They had a private meeting and I think Coquese expressed her desire to have Dara shoot the basketball and Dara complied and she had a great game."
Taylor played assertive and wasn't afraid to shoot against the Spartans, something that differed from most of the non-conference season where she was mostly a facilitator in the Lady Lion offense. This development is something that comes straight from her confidence and assertiveness in the offense.
Instead of passing up on shots she normally would have, Taylor attempted and made shots in situations where she normally would have looked for another teammate and the biggest thing she was able to do against Michigan State was feed off of the constant boost she receives from her coaches and teammates.
"It's pretty much the confidence my teammates and coaches have put in me," said Taylor. "They're all telling me to shoot it and it's not so much that I can't shoot it's just to know what shot to take and having the confidence it's the right shot. That really clicked for me on Sunday."
Not only was Taylor productive against Michigan State, but she was also efficient, shooting 70 percent from the field, including making three of four from beyond the arc. When the redshirt-junior is able to get open shots and make them, it opens up a whole new dimension for the Penn State offense.
Suddenly, an offense that was already deadly becomes even scarier for an opponent which Taylor said was the biggest thing from her development over the past few months. Her teammates benefit from her successes and that is what satisfies her the most.
"If I can knock down the open shot it creates driving lanes for Alex or opens up the paint for my post players," said Taylor. "So being an offensive threat really helps the team."
Teams will now have to realize that there is a third guard in the blue and white they will have to prepare for when developing a defensive scheme and taking the normal focus on just Bentley and Lucas will be a huge mistake.
"It makes us really tough to guard," said Chimel. "There are teams we are playing that waste two or three players on just Maggie. We see these triangle-two or box-and-one defenses and you just can't do that anymore because Dara is going to be wide open or Ariel is going to have the ability to score and it really helps us out."
Taylor's next task is to continue to grow from her game in East Lansing and it won't get any easier against No. 23 Nebraska (11-4, 2-1 Big Ten) who visit the BJC on Sunday at 2 p.m.