STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Maggie Lucas has a few more opportunities left to thrill the home crowd.
Lucas, the two-time Big Ten player of the year, will leave Penn State as one of the most accomplished players in program history. She’s led the No. 3 seed Nittany Lions (22-7) to four straight NCAA tournament appearances, three regular-season Big Ten titles, and she holds the team and conference record for 3-pointers made.
She’s crafted quite a resume. It’s just not enough. Lucas wants to win two more games on her home court, the Bryce Jordan Center, and make her final ones there in the NCAA tournament perhaps the most memorable of her career. She’ll have to lead them past No. 14 Wichita State (26-6) on Sunday in the Stanford Regional. Win, and the Nittany Lions move on to play the winner of No. 6 Dayton (23-7) vs. No. 11 Florida (19-12) on Tuesday.
Lucas helped the Lady Lions to 51 home victories over her four-year career. She averaged 21.5 points this season, thanks to near-automatic free-throw shooting, finishing at over 95 percent this season. Lucas is the only player in NCAA women’s history to score more than 20 points a game and shoot better than 95 percent from the line. Those are the kind of numbers that get mentioned with Kelly Mazzante as the Lady Lions’ greatest player.
“She’s had one of the most storied and acclaimed careers in the history of Penn State,” coach Coquese Washington said on Saturday. “She will be in the conversation, she’ll be one of the names heard when you talk about the Penn State greats. Maggie Lucas’ name will be on that list. Her impact on our program has been phenomenal.”
Here are five things to watch in Sunday’s games:
NOT SO PERFECT: The Wichita State men and women’s programs are having one heck of a year, a combined 61-6 record and two trips to the tournament. Of course, the 14th-seeded Shockers have all the losses, and history is for them to add one more. The Shockers, the Missouri Valley Conference tournament champions, are trying to become the first 14 seed to ever win a tournament game. The Shockers cracked the national rankings this season thanks to a 20-game winning streak before they lost four of five, creating some doubt they could make a return trip to the tournament. Wichita State rebounded and stormed through the tournament for title. The Shockers don’t quite have the gaudy 35-0 mark of the top-seeded men’s team, but that’s fine with them. At this point in the season, they just want another victory. Coach Jody Adams refused to make a big deal that the Shockers are playing a true road game. “Is preparation any different? Absolutely not. We go about our business the same way,” he said.
DAYTON REBOUND: The Flyers are trying to move on from the sting of losing to Fordham in the Atlantic 10 tournament championship game, likely costing them a shot at a better seed than 6. Even with an at-large bid, the Flyers still earned the highest seed in program history. Junior guard Andrea Hoover led the team in points, assists and 3-point shooting en route to winning A-10 player of the year honors. The Flyers earned their fifth consecutive NCAA berth in 2014. Dayton is 2-4 all-time in NCAA tournament games. “It will be disappointing if we don’t have at least a chance of getting through this weekend and playing another weekend,” coach Jim Jabir said. “This is the best seed we’ve ever had and we want to take advantage of it and use it to advance.”
GATOR TIME: Florida is back in the tournament for the first time since 2012 and would like to stick around for a while. The Gators managed a fifth-place finish in the rugged SEC even with one of the thinnest rosters of any tournament team. The Gators have played just eight players in all but two games this season, seven against LSU on Jan. 12 and nine against Florida State and Nov. 21. The Gators also have no starters taller than 6-foot. “Our leadership did a great job in leaning into the idea that smaller is better,” coach Amanda Butler said. “What you believe is so powerful and I think our team really believed that smaller was better.”
THEY’RE NO. 1: The Gators and Shockers are both double-digits seeds in the Stanford Regional and will have a tough time advancing to the second weekend. Their male counterparts are both are No. 1 seeds in their NCAA tournament field, with Florida tops in the South Region and Wichita State headlining the Midwest.
HOME COOKING: Penn State is the site of first- and second-round games for the 15th time in program history. The Lady Lions have won nine of their last 10 home tournament games and are 17-5 overall.