PSU women's veterans seek elusive Big 10 title
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Eighth-ranked Penn State transformed from rebuilding project to Big Ten bellwether during Alex Bentley's four years in Happy Valley — though one big goal remains elusive.
One last chance for Bentley and her fellow Lady Lion seniors to win the Big Ten tournament that begins this week.
"Three games, three days. That's the tough part," Bentley said this week at the Penn State practice gym. "It's tough, but it's a mental toughness game."
Penn State is the top seed after winning its second straight regular-season title. The Lady Lions, along with the other top four finishers — Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan State — get first-round byes, meaning those teams get an extra day of rest while the rest of the league opens play Thursday.
But Penn State has been the class of the league all year. Coach Coquese Washington's team seems to have the ingredients for a long postseason run: a veteran and explosive backcourt led by Bentley and the conference player of the year in junior Maggie Lucas; a deep roster that gives Washington the flexibility to play any style.
The difference this season might be defense. The league's top-scoring offense (74.4 points) is complimented by a scoring defense that's fifth in the conference (58.7 points).
Penn State also leads the league in rebounding (41.6 per game) and is second in steals (11.6).
Washington didn't want to talk about NCAA seeding this week, choosing to focus only on her team's next game — either Minnesota or Ohio State on Friday.
But Nebraska coach Connie Yori wasn't shy in saying the Lady Lions had a "legitimate shot" to break through into the NCAA national semifinals. The Lady Lions beat the Cornhuskers 82-67 in Lincoln on Sunday to prevent Nebraska from claiming a piece of the conference title.
"They have a chance to be a No. 2 seed" in the NCAAs, Yori said Tuesday during a conference call. "They are a program that has a lot of pieces in place."
The Lady Lions haven't won the Big Ten tournament since 1996.
Penn State was the second seed two seasons ago and lost to top seed Ohio State. Last year, Bentley and her teammates were the No. 1 seed but fell in the semifinals to fourth-seeded Purdue.
"It's tough. You've just got to make you get the rest, and your conditioning recovery kicks in," Washington said. "The positive thing is everybody" also has to go through the same grind.
Maybe a change of venue will help the Lady Lions. The tourney is moving to the Hoffman Estates, Ill., in suburban Chicago, following a 12-year run in Indianapolis.
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