Nittany Lions scripting storybook season
UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) – One of the tallest players on No. 7 Penn State’s roster is one of the most soft-spoken members of the team.
Six-foot-4 center Nikki Greene has taken her aggression out in the paint, scrambling for rebounds and maneuvering down low in the post.
She’s been the perfect complement for prolific shooting guard Maggie Lucas and playmaker Alex Bentley during the Lady Lions’ best stretch of basketball during a season in which they have their best record in nearly two decades.
“When she’s playing the way she is, you have to account for her,” coach Coquese Washington said before practice Wednesday. “It just gives us more weapons when she’s playing that way, and gives everybody else a lot of confidence.”
Penn State (17-2, 7-0) has its best record since going 22-2 to start the 1993-94 season. Winners of 11 straight, the Lady Lions have also won a school-record 14 Big Ten straight games dating back to last season.
Opposing defenses are well aware of Lucas and Bentley, two of the best players in the country.
Now, Greene gives foes yet another blue-and-white headache just in time for conference play. The senior has had six straight games of double-digit rebounds, and an already potent offense gets a lift when she’s scoring inside.
The quandary: How much attention do defenses pay to Greene at the risk of not double-teaming Lucas (20.0 points), or losing track of Bentley (13.1 points) and her mid-range jumper? Wisconsin (9-11, 1-6) gets that predicament on Thursday night in Madison.
“If she’s clogging up the paint, she’s going to get a double team, and with an inside-out game, it works great with all our shooters,” said junior Dara Taylor, the third member of Penn State’s powerful three-guard lineup.
But it’s on defense where the Lady Lions have especially left their mark this year.
Penn State steamrolled over most of the nonconference schedule, with Lucas, Bentley and Taylor spearheading the team’s suffocating defensive play from the backcourt.
Having shot-blocking threats in Greene and 6-foot-5 backup center Tori Waldner doesn’t hurt, either.
“It allows us to be more aggressive on the ball and put more pressure on passing lanes because we know that (Greene) is going to be in there cleaning up for us,” Taylor said.
Just don’t expect Greene to be very vocal. She doesn’t necessarily need to be either with verbose personalities like Lucas, Bentley and Mia Nickson.
But Greene has been more assertive.
“Nikki is a kid where the more comfortable she is, the more aggressive she can be,” Washington said. “It’s all coming together for her, and she’s really confident and aggressive on the floor.”
That’s never been a problem for Lucas. The long-range shooting threat has constantly had to make adjustments over her career as defenses, especially in the Big Ten, get more physical and to try to throw her off rhythm.
Midway through conference play, Lucas said she’s trying to get more aggressive to get open on the wing, running plays as if she’s posting up.
Then again, she’s seen this defensive chess match before.
“It just gets amplified a little bit each year,” she said. “I’m almost in a comfort zone right now.”
Just like rest of the streaking Lady Lions.
“It’s cool. I’m happy for the girls that they they’ve had that experience,” Washington said of the lengthy winning streak. “But it doesn’t look like it’s that important because there’s so much basketball left.”