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OldGoldFreePress COLUMNISTS | BACK TO Steve'S COLUMNS

PURDUE WOMENS BASKETBALL:
Women's Opponents' Profile #11: Penn State Nittany Lions, 01/02/04


Kelly Mazzante's far from overrated, as she leads Penn State through a brutal preseason schedule.


Date: 1/01/2004
Author: Steve
© Old Gold Free Press Columnists

    Welcome to the eleventh opponent profile for the 2003-2004 season. Each profile will include information about the opponent’s women’s basketball team and a player or coach on the team. Links to web pages will follow each section. Look for a profile on each opponent 1-2 days before the tip-off.

    The Team

    Penn State enters the January 2 game against the Boilermakers with a 7-3 record, although the team has lost its two most recent games against Louisiana Tech and North Carolina. The Nittany Lions, coached by Rene Portland, have played a demanding schedule: games against Louisiana State, Old Dominion, Kansas State, and Texas have toughened the squad that was picked to finish first in the Big Ten by the conference coaches.

    The Nittany Lion players are excellent offensively, averaging almost 78 points per game and shooting better than 46% from the field. Kodak All-American Kelly Mazzante leads the squad and the Big Ten in scoring at 23 points per game, but the underrated Tanisha Wright and Jess Strom follow up at 15.1 and 13.6 respectively. The fourth Nittany Lion who averages in double figures is Jess Brungo, at 10.4 per game.

    The team has adept shooters from 3-point range, hitting at a 36.3% clip. Considering that almost one-third of the team’s field goal attempts come from the 19’9” distance and beyond, that’s quite an impressive statistic. Strom leads the way at better than 58% shooting, but the other three double-digit scorers have all connected from long distance. Don’t put this team on the line, either, as it converts more than 81% of its free throw attempts. Mazzante is almost automatic at 92.9% while Brungo makes better than 93% of her shots, although she has fewer attempts than Mazzante.

    Defensively, the Nittany Lions are solid if unspectacular, holding their opponents to less than 62 points per game on 41% shooting from the field. Opponents, however, don't commit many turnovers against the Nittany Lions, averaging only sixteen per game. Penn State grabs almost 6 more rebounds per game than its opponents, although no individual player averages more than 5.1, which means that all of the players must put an emphasis on rebounding. Defensively, the squad is led by Wright, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Wright, who has 20 steals and two blocked shots, is physically tough enough to pressure players from point guard position to small forward. She could conceivably defend Erika, Beth, and Shereka during the game.

    Strom keeps the Penn State machine clicking offensively, averaging more than six assists per game and leading the Big Ten in assist/turnover ratio. The entire Nittany Lion squad, however, is efficient when it comes to taking care of the ball: they average only fourteen turnovers per game. Maximizing the opportunity to score on each possession and getting around 13 offensive rebounds per game keeps Penn State in the flow on the offensive end, its strength.

    The official web site for Penn State's women’s basketball team is at the following address: http://www.gopsusports.com/basketballw/

    The Player

    Some love her and think she’s the best player in the Big Ten, if not the nation. Others think she’s an overrated, one-dimensional player whose stats are the result of having the green light to shoot at all times in Rene Portland’s offensive system. Senior Kelly Mazzante, from Montoursville, Pennsylvania, may not be the best player in the nation, but she’s far from being overrated.

    Consider her career stats. Yes, she takes a lot of shots (an average of 18 per game during her career), but she also makes a lot of them, hitting better than 44% of her field goals, 36% of her three-pointers, and 81% of her free throws during her career. Those numbers are about equal with those of Purdue legends Stephanie White-McCarty and Katie Douglas. She’s also averaging a little more than four rebounds per game and two steals per game for her career. While she’s not dominant in all facets of the game (her career assist-to-turnover ratio is less than 1 for example), she’s hardly one-dimensional.

    Also consider that Penn State’s record during her three years on campus has improved from 19-10 to 23-12 to 26-9, despite having one of the youngest rosters in the conference. Mazzante had to be the rock for those Nittany Lion squads while Wright and Strom developed into all-conference players. She may have put up a lot of shots her sophomore and junior years, but she had to take command for a squad that needed her scoring. The opposition knew that Mazzante was going to be shooting, but she was still able to come through with key buckets, leading all Division I players in scoring her sophomore year.

    Look for Kelly Mazzante to become the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer within the first half of the conference season and to continue racking up postseason honors as one of the best players in collegiate women’s basketball. The following links about Kelly Mazzante are from the official Penn State women’s basketball page. The second includes quotes from Kelly, Coach Rene Portland, and other coaches regarding the Penn State senior’s skills.

    http://www.gopsusports.com/basketballw/People/players/Playerprofile.cfm?rosterID=429
    http://www.gopsusports.com/basketballw/people/players/2001_KelleyMazzante_BasketballW.cfm

    The Game

    The Boilermakers have never started Big Ten conference play at home during Kristy Curry’s tenure at Purdue, until this year. After waiting so long to start conference play at Mackey Arena, the squad is treated to a match-up with another top-10 program and perhaps their fiercest conference rival. Thanks, schedule makers.

    The Boilermakers enter Friday’s game on a roll, winning their last eight games in a row, while Penn State staggers in after losing a buzzer-beater to Louisiana Tech and being throttled at North Carolina by the Tar Heels’ inside players. The last few Boilermaker victories, however, haven’t instilled much confidence as the team has seemed lackluster against Valparaiso, Houston, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and Western Michigan, while squeaking out wins against them all. A lackluster performance either offensively or defensively against Penn State will net the Boilermakers a loss as the Nittany Lion talent base is much deeper than any squad Purdue has faced since Duke.


As news organizations move their stories to an archive, some of the links listed above may become inactive

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