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What To Watch: Penn State at Michigan State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After two straight home games, the No. 17/16 Penn State women's basketball team will travel to Michigan State on Sunday, Jan. 19 at 5 p.m. on ESPN2. The Lady Lions (12-4, 3-1) will travel to the Breslin Center to face the Spartans (12-5, 4-0) in their only meeting of the 2013-14 season.

GAME NOTES: at Michigan State

Penn State enters the contest sitting at 3-1 in the Big Ten Conference, which is currently tied for third, but can move into a tie for first in the conference with a win against Michigan State. Currently, the Spartans sit at 4-0 in conference play, while Michigan enters Sunday with no game to play and a 4-1 mark in the Big Ten.



Pregame Reading
What To Watch For - Penn State

Reaching Milestones: Head coach Coquese Washington claimed her 130th career head coaching win with a victory over Ohio State on Thursday, but the sideline boss can help the Lady Lions reach the programs 870th win if they can claim a win in East Lansing today.

Hitting the Boards: Penn State is giving up 39.0 rebounds per game to its opponent, ranking eighth in the Big Ten, but the Lady Lions are averaging 46.4 rebounds per game this season, which leads the conference. Talia East (7.1 rpg) and Tori Waldner (6.1 rpg) are both among the top-20 in the conference in rebounding. They will deal with Michigan State's Aerial Powers (8.0 rpg) and Annalise Pickrel (7.1) and the third ranked rebounding team in the Big Ten today.

Shutting Down the Buckeyes: The Lady Lions held Ohio State to a season-low 42 points on Thursday at the Bryce Jordan Center and did it with defense. Penn State forced 22 turnovers and held the Buckeyes to just 29 percent shooting. They outscored the Buckeyes 34-18 in the paint and held Ohio State scoreless for 8:25 in the first half to take a lead into halftime.

What To Watch For - Michigan State

The Last Unbeaten: Michigan State enters today's contest as the only unbeaten team in conference play. The Spartans have handed Michigan and Nebraska their only losses to open up Big Ten play, while also taking down Iowa and Minnesota to improve to 4-0. Overall, Michigan State is 12-5, with three of those losses coming against teams that were ranked or receiving votes at the time of their meetings.

Shutting Down the Leader: The Spartans have been effective against the opposition's leading scorer over the last seven games. The seven team's leading scorers have combined to shoot 37.6% (41-for-109), while averaging 12.5 points, almost four points below their combined season averages (16.2). In conference play, MSU has faced the top-two scorers in the Big Ten. Minnesota's Rachel Banham (21.2) was held to 13 points on 6-for-19 shooting, while Nebraska's Jordan Hooper had 21 points, but only went 9-for-22 from the field.

She Powers the Spartans: Redshirt freshman Aerial Powers had to sit out the 2012-13 season due to injury, but has returned for the 2013-14 slate is leading the team with 14.0 points per game and has reached double figures 12 times. She also has four double-doubles and leads the team with 8.0 rebounds per game and 34 steals.

--LADY LIONS--

Defense Leads Lady Lions Past Buckeyes

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By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coming off a double-digit loss to Purdue where Penn State (12-4, 3-1) allowed its most points all season, Coquese Washington stressed the improvement of her defense in all facets against Ohio State (12-8, 2-2).

Taylor-Dara (4).jpegAfter a dominating 66-42 win over the Buckeye's where the Lady Lions held Ohio State to just five offensive rebounds and marked the lowest point total an opponent has scored against Penn State, it's safe to say an improvement was made on Thursday in the Bryce Jordan Center.

Thursday's stout defensive effort started with rebounding for Penn State. The Lady Lions out rebounded the Buckeyes 54-36, including 34 defensive rebounds. Ariel Edwards led the way with 10 total rebounds while Talia East and Alex Harris tallied nine and eight, respectively. The performance was satisfying for Penn State after a week of practice focusing on limiting the opponent's second chances.

"We talked about it in practice and emphasized how important it is for everyone to get in there and rebound," Washington said. "When you have numerous people who do a good job crashing the glass you can just assume somebody else is going to get the rebound and when you're tall you can sometimes forget to use your fundamentals in terms of boxing out, but we didn't do that tonight. We were really aggressive going after the ball and that helped us."

Combined with the strong rebounding performance from Penn State was forcing 22 Buckeye turnovers that turned into 17 Lady Lion points. Turnover numbers and rebound numbers were exactly where Penn State wanted to see them when developing the game plan prior to Thursday's match up.

Ohio State went on two major scoring droughts in each half, mainly because of the Lady Lion zone defense. In the first half Ohio State went over eight minutes without scoring leading to a 9-0 Penn State scoring run. Penn State started half number two without allowing the Buckeyes to score a point for the first 5:13 to open their lead to 17 points.

Senior guard Dara Taylor credited Penn State's zone defense and their versatility as to why they had such a strong defensive performance.

"I think we have a lot of different weapons on this team and I think with the zone, we can come at you with a lot of height, a lot of length, a lot of speed and athleticism," said Taylor. "That means we can get out to shooters and stop dribble penetration. I think we are so versatile in it that it's pretty difficult for teams to score."

Another promising sign was Penn State's ability to stop Ohio State's leading scorer Ameryst Alston who entered the contest averaging 16.9 points per game and was coming off a 29-point performance in her last outing against No. 22 Indiana. Alston tallied just 12 points Thursday night, her lowest point total through four conference games.

With an abundance of great scorers in the Big Ten, Washington will use her team's play against Alston as a teaching point moving forward.

"Absolutely," Washington said when asked if she would look back to her team's play on Alston in the future. "We have got to lock in on the best players in this conference and we've got to make it tough for them to get good looks and we've got some good players and they're going to make some tough plays."

Penn State will be up to another tough task when they travel to East Lansing to face Michigan State on Sunday, Jan. 19 on ESPN2 at 5 p.m.. The Spartans feature two lethal scorers in Aerial Powers and Annalise Pickrel, who average 14.0 and 13.8 points per game respectively.

 

--LADY LIONS--

GAME BLOG: Lady Lions host Ohio State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live in-game coverage on GoPSUsports.com for the No. 17/16 Penn State women's basketball contest against Ohio State on Thursday, Jan. 16 inside the Bryce Jordan Center at 7 p.m. 

BLOG: What to Watch   BLOG: Whitted Born into Basketball  |  GAME NOTES: Ohio State

Be sure to interact with today's blog coverage with questions or comments at the bottom of our widget. Post your photos to Instagram or Twitter and use #PennState or #LadyLions and your photos may be chosen for use on our in-game coverage.


 

What To Watch: Penn State hosts Ohio State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 17/16 Penn State women's basketball team will host Ohio State on Thursday, Jan. 16 at the Bryce Jordan Center in their second of four Big Ten home game in the month. The Lady Lions (11-4, 2-1) will host the Buckeyes (12-7, 2-1) in the first of two meetings this season, this time at 7 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.

GAME NOTES: host Ohio State  |  Blog: Whitted Born into Basketball

Penn State dropped their first conference of the season game over the weekend, falling 84-74 to Purdue at home, and are now 2-1 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes enter with a 2-1 conference record, as well, after defeating No. 22 Indiana in Bloomington on Sunday, 70-51.



Pregame Reading
What To Watch For - Penn State

Seaking No. 130: Head coach Coquese Washington arrived in Happy Valley as one of the top recruiters in the country, but had no head coaching experience. That lack of experience didn't stop the Flint, Mich. native from quickly building the Lady Lions program into a national contender. With one more victory, Washington can reach 130 career wins in her seventh season at the helm of the program.

Swatting The Opposition: The Lady Lions are among the top shot blocking teams in the NCAA this season, ranking eighth with 6.0 blocks per game. Penn State has at least six blocks in 10 of their 15 games and has recorded at least one block in all but one contest. They tied a school record with 14 rejections on Sunday vs. Purdue and reached the 10-block plateau at South Dakota State, as well. The numbers aren't padded, either, with PSU registering seven blocks vs. No. 5 Notre Dame and eight against No. 1 UConn.

Hitting the Boards: Although head coach Coquese Washington wants her team to be more assertive on the defensive boards, the Lady Lions have seen five players pull down 10 rebounds in a game this season. Talia East has four such games, while Alex Harris and Tori Waldner have each grabbed 10-plus caroms on three occasions. Ariel Edwards and Peyton Whitted each have one such game.  

What To Watch For - Ohio State

One and Alston: One player does not make a team, but sophomore Ameryst Alston has been a heavy lifter for Ohio State in 2013-14. She is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, leads the Buckeyes and ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 16.9 points per game and has led OSU in scoring 10 times this season. She also ranks second on the team with 2.5 assists on the season.

Holding Strong on D: The Buckeyes offense has been held to 55 points or fewer seven times in 2013-14, but that doesn't mean they've been getting blown off the court. The Buckeyes have limited the opposition to 35.4 percent shooting and have held their foes to under 55 points on five occasions, as well. Part of that success is that Ohio State is a perfect 10-0 when out-rebounding their opponents.

Playing It Tough: Ohio State enters today's contest with the nationally ranked Lady Lions with an RPI of 18, which is impressive in its own right, but the Buckeyes also own the nations toughest schedule, sitting No. 1 in strength of schedule according to RealTimeRPI.com. This season the Buckeyes have wins over West Virginia, Marist, Purdue and Indiana.

--LADY LIONS--

Freshman Whitted Born into Basketball

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By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "I was hearing basketballs bouncing before I even came out [of my mother's womb]," said freshman guard/forward Peyton Whitted.

Whitted-Peyton.jpegThe versatile Lady Lion newcomer has basketball in her blood. Her love of the game can be traced back to her father, Kevin, who played at Tennessee from 1993-95 and then professionally oversees in Spain and France.

According to Peyton, since playing her first game at the youthful age of seven, her father has taught her everything thing she knows about the game, from lacing up the shoes to the left-handed lay-up.

"
He's taught me everything," said Whitted. "He's taught me how to shoot, how to dribble and how to play multiple positions."

More importantly, her father imbedded into his daughter's brain an even greater reason why basketball is not just a way of life; it's a life lesson.

"He has taught me off the court that everything I learn in basketball is going to help me with everyday life," said Whitted. "All the skills that I am learning out here apply to everything that I'm doing."

Whitted is one of seven newcomers on the Lady Lions squad this season, which includes six freshmen and one sophomore transfer.

At this point in the season, Washington voiced that what has been most impressive about her young, supplementary seven has been their noticeable growth.

"Sometimes when you make the adjustment from high school to college...you can say 'I'll wait my turn. I'll wait until next year. I'll wait until whenever,'" said Washington. "But that has not been case with this group of freshmen. They continue to work. They continue to get better in practice...their fight and their effort to improve has been really impressive to me."

Despite the fact that Washington has displayed excitement surrounding the maturation of her entire freshmen class, it is clear that Whitted has exhibited the most growth since her arrival in Happy Valley.

The reason for her blooming play at the collegiate level can be connected to the augmentation of her own self-confidence.

"She just has developed a lot of confidence," said Washington.

Like any newcomer the transition from high school to college play can be suffocating. The situation held no exception for Whitted, either.

"In October she probably wasn't the freshman who was having the best transition," said Washington. "The speed of the game, the physicality of the game, the amount of information she had to absorb, it was a challenge for her. But, since Thanksgiving she has developed some confidence and she has gotten stronger, which has helped her confidence."

In 14 games played this season, Whitted is averaging 2.9 points per game and 2.9 rebounds per game in 10.6 minutes per game.

With that being said, since the start of Big Ten play Whitted's confidence has clearly surged as of late. In Penn State's first three conference games, Whitted is averaging 5.7 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game in 13.7 minutes per game.

"I think her confidence comes from going into games and not tripping over her feet," said Washington jokingly. "Actually getting a rebound, putting a basket in and making a free throw. That is where her confidence is coming from. And as her confidence in her abilities and in her skill set has grown, her performance has grown."

Yes, her confidence stems from practice, games, repetition and team comradery, but going to a university like Penn State adds another explanation to Whitted's escalating growth and confidence. That additional justification resides in the people of Happy Valley.

"I love it [Penn State]," said Whitted. "Everybody is nice here. I have yet to meet one unfriendly person when I walk around campus. People really support women's basketball, and I really like that about this school. I just love the atmosphere on campus."

A tightknit community has made Whitted feel at home. For an athlete who sleeps with her eyes open, it is safe to say that such comfort makes it easier for Whitted to never take her eyes off the prize.

"Yes, I sleep with my eyes open," said Whitted with a laugh. "You can ask Kaliyah [Mitchell]. It's like every night. I fall asleep before her, and she always thinks I'm still awake. She tries to talk to me, but I don't answer her."

Although just a freshman, it is no surprise as to why Whitted keeps her eyes open 24/7. She dreams big. Her list includes being crowned Big Ten Champions, winning a National Championship, and being drafted into the WNBA.

The 6-foot-3 frame of Whitted makes her one to watch when it comes to the future of women's collegiate basketball. In the first half of her first collegiate season she has created mismatches for opponents on both sides of the ball. The Suwanee, Ga., native has the unique ability to be a physical force down low and a triple threat around the perimeter. 

When asked which WNBA players she likes to emulate on the hardwood, Whitted said, "Candace Parker and Elena Delle Donne."

Hailing from the state of Georgia, Whitted is used to enjoying juicy peach as a healthy snack. With that being said, she surprisingly has yet to savor one here at Penn State.

"I've had apples and bananas here, but no peaches," said Whitted.


Maybe after tonight's home game at 7 p.m. against Big Ten foe Ohio State (12-7, 2-1), Washington and her team can treat the Georgia native to the Penn State way of consuming peaches--a cup of Peachy Paterno from the Creamery.

 

--LADY LIONS--

Lady Lions Fall Despite East's Block Party

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By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Playing in the Big Ten is a hefty challenge year in and year out. Yesterday No. 15/14 Penn State (11-4, 2-1) found out just that as they fell to conference foe No. 20/21 Purdue (11-4, 1-2), 84-74, in front of the Bryce Jordan Center faithful.

East-Talia (3).jpegDespite the 10-point loss to the sharp-shooting Boilermakers, Talia East was a force to be reckon with down low on both ends of the floor.

The 6-foot-3 senior out of Philadelphia registered seven blocks, corralled 10 rebounds (four offensive) and tallied nine points on 4-of-10 shooting to lead the Lady Lions frontcourt.

With the seven rejections, East managed to tie her career high in blocks, which she originally set back during her sophomore season. Moreover, she fell just one block short of tying the Lady Lion record for rejections in a game.

"It's [shot blockers] a nice asset to have, knowing that we have Talia [East] and Tori [Waldner] in there and knowing that they can alter or block shots," said Washington.

Thanks to the patience displayed defensively by East, Waldner and a handful of others, the Lady Lions as an entire unit tied a program record with 14 blocked shots. The record was set in 1980 vs. Delaware and tied again in 1982 vs. Boston University.

"Their team was driving [to the basket] a lot," said East. "We knew that if they kept trying to drive baseline that we were going to be able to get blocked shots. I think that's what our strategy was going into the game."

Even though Washington noted her comfort in having East and Waldner down on the block to deter any opponent who tries to go inside, she surprisingly focused on sacrificing those blocks for better perimeter defense.

"The problem is that they're getting a lot of their blocked shots on dribble penetration or second chance offensive opportunities and offensive rebounds," said Washington. "I would trade them getting less blocks if that means we're doing a better job containing the ball and rebounding."

As of late the focus for Washington and her Lady Lions has circled around the idea of starting and finishing games strong.

Although the Blue and White opened the game on a 7-0 run, and found success sporadically vs. Purdue, Washington stressed the importance of playing hard from start to finish.

"We had a stretch in the second half when we played pretty well," said Washington. "Outside those [stretches of play] I don't think we played very well at all on either end of the floor. We just need to put a 40-minute game together...That's an area of growth for us to look at moving forward this year. We have to be able to put 40 minutes together."

Offensively, the Lady Lions scored 40 points in the paint and converted on 25-second chance points. The opportunities were certainly there; it is just a matter of playing more consistency on both ends of the floor.

"When we had our good stretch in the second half, we were playing pretty well, we had good balance," said Washington. "We were getting the ball in the paint with good paint touches and getting the ball to our posts. We just weren't consistent with that throughout the game."

The game yesterday marked only Penn State's third Big Ten contest and Washington reminded everyone, the media and her team, about that fact after the loss to a ranked Purdue squad.

"The thing about it is that it's early in the Big Ten season," said Washington. "We just have to regroup and get ready for Ohio State."

Penn State will look to rebound when they return to action back at the Bryce Jordan Center on Thursday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. against Ohio State.

--LADY LIONS--

GAME BLOG: Lady Lions host Purdue

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live in-game coverage on GoPSUsports.com for the No. 15/14 Penn State women's basketball contest against No. 20/21 Purdue on Sunday, Jan. 12 inside the Bryce Jordan Center. 

BLOG: What to Watch  BLOG: Edwards a Versatile Threat for Lady Lions  |  GAME NOTES: Purdue

Be sure to interact with today's blog coverage with questions or comments at the bottom of our widget. Post your photos to Instagram or Twitter and use #PennState or #LadyLions and your photos may be chosen for use on our in-game coverage.

 

What To Watch: Penn State hosts Purdue

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 15/14 Penn State women's basketball team will open the home portion of their Big Ten schedule on Sunday, Jan. 12 when they welcome Purdue to the Bryce Jordan Center. The Lady Lions (11-3, 2-0) will host the No. 20/21 Boilermakers (10-4, 0-2) in a 3 p.m. contest that will be televised on ESPN.

GAME NOTES: host Purdue

Penn State is coming off of an 82-76 victory at Illinois on Thursday after opening Big Ten play with a 16-point victory at No. 23/20 Iowa. Purdue is playing their third straight Big Ten road contest, losing the first two at Ohio State, 89-78, and at Northwestern, 71-68.



Pregame Reading
What To Watch For - Penn State

Edwards Seeing Double: Senior guard/forward Ariel Edwards had a night to remember at Illinois on Thursday, pouring in 20 points and grabbing 11 rebounds to help the Lady Lions to a victory. It was her second career double-double, also accomplishing the feat on Jan. 22, 2012 vs. Iowa, and is the first Lady Lions with a 20/10 game since center Nikki Greene had 23 points and 14 rebounds against Wisconsin on Jan. 17, 2013.

Whitted Hitting Stride: Freshman forward Peyton Whitted has found her stride, turning in two straight career-best performances to start Big Ten play. The rookie opened her Big Ten career with a then-career-high eight points and six rebounds at Iowa, but at Illinois, Whitted scored nine points and grabbed 10 boards to eclipse both totals and nearly record the double-double.

Lucas on the Climb: Maggie Lucas continues to move up the Penn State and Big Ten scoring charts, currently sitting 12th on the Big Ten scoring charts with 2,142 points, just 18 points shy of Illinois' Jenna Smith (2,160 pts; 2007-10). She is currently third on the Penn State scoring charts behind Susan Robinson (2,253 pts), needing 111 points to equal Robinson's totals from her career in the post.

What To Watch For - Purdue

One-Two Punch at Guard: KK Houser and Courtney Moses make up one of the most formidable backcourts in the country, combining to average nearly 30 points per game. Houser (15.7 ppg) and Moses (14.6 ppg) are both threats from beyond the arc, both can slash to the hoop and will pick your pocket for a transition bucket, as well. Houser has 73 assists and 25 steals, while Moses has 17 assists and 12 steals on the year, as well.

KK Dishing It Out: During her time at Purdue, KK Houser has been handing out assists like Jake Moon gave away free corndogs in the movie Semi-Pro. The 5-foot-6 guard has a team-best 73 helpers this season and has totaled 413 in her career. Those 413 assist rank her ninth on the school's all-time charts, just five assists shy of Sharon Versyp, the current Boilermaker head coach and former point guard from 1985-88.

Tale of the Turnover: You probably thought that I was going to tell you that Purdue is undefeated when turning over the ball less than their opponents, however, that is not the case. The Boilermakers are 5-4 on the season when posting equal or less turnovers than the opposition, while they're 5-0 when committing more turnovers than their opponents.

--LADY LIONS--

Lucas Leads Lady Lions To Road Win

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By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Despite accumulating three fouls uncharacteristically quick in the first half, Maggie Lucas delivered some timely shooting to help lead Penn State back from an early 12 point disadvantage to an eventual six point victory, 82-76, at Illinois.

Lucas-Maggie (9).jpegPlaying on the road in the Big Ten is not an easy task. That was made clear to Coquese Washington, her coaching staff and her Lady Lions as they faced a 17-5 deficit eight minutes into their bout against Big Ten foe Illinois at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill. on Thursday.

"Whenever you play on the road, it's always a difficult environment, and you have to be mentally tough," said Penn State assistant coach Kia Damon. "I think we got down in a hole pretty early in the game. We didn't have our normal scoring opportunities, but the girls continued to attack."

However, it was 2013 Big Ten Player of the Year, Maggie Lucas, who overcame foul trouble to lead the Lady Lions to victory. Lucas tallied 24 points, converting on four three-pointers, including a perfect 10-for-10 from the charity stripe.

"Maggie is always clutch," said Damon. "She picked up three quick fouls, which is unusual. I think there have only been a handful of games in her career where she picked up that many fouls in the first half. But with her time on the bench, and then at halftime, she was able to collect her thoughts, be more poised, and have a laser-sharp focus on what she needed to do in the second half to be more effective."

Lucas executed a simple flick of the wrist and a hand in the cookie jar to spark the comeback. Down by seven with 7:22 remaining in the first half, the sharp-shooting senior cashed in a three-pointer from well beyond the arc to cut Illinois's lead to 23-19.

From that point forward, Penn State was able to control the tempo, especially in transition and the Lady Lions went on to end the first half on an 8-2 run to head into the locker-room down only one, 32-31.

In the second half, Lucas and the Lady Lions stayed hot, leading by 19 points at one point, 77-58. Lucas was like a microwave, providing instant scoring for her team. Her 17-second half points certainly helped the Blue and White get out to a commanding lead.

Lucas has compiled quite the statistical career at Penn State, so, to no surprise, she found herself in even more Lady Lion record books after her performance last night.

For the third time this season, Lucas was perfect from the foul line when attempting at least 10 shots. With her perfect 10-for-10 from the charity stripe, Lucas became just the eighth player in Lady Lion history to attempt 500 free throws in a career, moving into seventh place on the all-time list with 503 attempts.

Additionally, by finishing 4-for-11 from downtown, Lucas moved into second place on the Big Ten career three-point field goals attempt list with 768.

Other notable difference makers included senior Ariel Edwards and freshman Peyton Whitted. Edwards notched her second-career double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Whitted set career-highs with 9 points and 10 boards.

Be that as it may, the Lady Lions lost their double-digit lead, and nearly the game, when the Illini finished the game on a zestful 15-3 run. Such an ending provided the Lady Lions with an important takeaway from the contest.

"The positive that we can take away are once we are able to maintain and hold onto the lead we can be very dangerous," said Damon. "That is a great strength of our team and that takes a lot of mental fortitude to do that. We just have to stay true to the things in our game plan. So I think the main thing is that we have to start the game strong and finish the game strong."

The Lady Lions will look to start and finish strong when they travel back home and take on No. 20/21 Purdue in their Big Ten home opener this Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center.

 

--LADY LIONS--

Edwards a Versatile Threat for Lady Lions

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By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - During the preseason and the early non-conference season, it was unknown who would team up with 2013 Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas to lead the Lady Lion scoring, although all signs pointed toward it being Ariel Edwards.

Edwards-Ariel (4).jpegSigns no more. Now, it is simply factual. Ariel Edwards can be and will be a viable scoring threat in her senior season at Penn State. Through 13 games, Edwards is second on the team in scoring averaging 13.5 points per game and adds 4.5 rebounds per contest.

Her versatility on the floor has created a new dimension for the Lady Lions and more importantly, according to her head coach, it has created stability.

"The confidence that she [Ariel] is playing with is really helping to stabilize the team so far this year," said head coach Coquese Washington. "She is playing more decisively. When she is aggressive and assertive and decisive she is pretty tough to stop."

The 6-foot-3 senior forward can play either guard position, defend at a high level, score and get rebounds and has been able to do all of those things at almost any given moment during the 2013-14 season.

"It helps me be more effective," Edwards said. "If we are playing a smaller team I can play power forward. If we are playing a bigger team I can play my more natural position, which is small forward."

With a true point guard in Dara Taylor and a lethal shooting guard in Maggie Lucas, Edwards knows the importance of her being versatile on a consistent basis, which is finally becoming a reality.

"It's something that my team needs from me," Edwards said of her versatility and consistency.

Edwards has been able to step up in on multiple occasions for Penn State this season cementing herself as a scoring leader for the back-to-back Big Ten regular season champions. Take the Lady Lions' 66-58 win over then-No. 20/24 Texas A&M.

The Aggies, along with anyone with knowledge of women's college basketball, knew Maggie Lucas was going to get her fair share of points and she did. What may have been the difference though was that Edwards backed up Lucas' 26-point performance with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists.

A few days prior to the win over Texas A&M, Penn State was down, 55-35, at the half on the road against South Dakota State. Edwards led the way in the second half with 16 points, four rebounds and two assists as the Lady Lions nearly erased the 20-point deficit before falling, 83-79.

Edwards has gone from a consistency question to a stable and able option. Position coach Kia Damon believes Edwards has been able to turn the corner because of her growth mentally as well as physically.

"Ariel has always been a very talented player, but what you are seeing this year is that she is putting together the mental aspect with her physical talents," said Damon. "That [the new mentality] has helped her to remain calm in every situation on the court."

Washington agrees. The physical talent and skill was always there, it was a matter of taking the mental approach and making the two work hand-in-hand. That has been able to happen because of her experiences in her first three seasons at Penn State.

"It's been a four-year progression for Ariel," Washington said. "She spends a tremendous amount of time in the gym before practice and after practice working on ball handling, defense and shooting. It's been a gradual growth for her and it's all coming together in terms of her confidence and decision making."

Edwards and Penn State travel to Champaign, Ill. on Thursday, Jan. 9 to take on Illinois at 9 p.m. before their Big Ten home opener on Sunday against Purdue at 3 p.m.

 

--LADY LIONS--