- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - Maggie Lucas ran figure 8s on an otherwise deserted practice court, taking turns shooting lay-ups and mid-range jumpers at three different baskets.

No 3-pointers, though, in this drill. She hits enough of them during games.

The Penn State freshman set school records for long-range shooting, and is a big reason why the Lady Lions are a contender again when the Big Ten conference tournament tips off this week. No. 2 seed Penn State (22-8, 11-5) has a first-round bye, and will face either No. 7 Purdue or No. 10 Indiana on Friday.

“When she’s in a rhythm, she cannot miss,” coach Coquese Washington said. “I have not been worried about her shooting.”

Why should she? The Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year and Sixth Player of the Year is shooting nearly 45 percent from 3-point range, good for the top 10 in Division I. Her 102 3-pointers are a freshman school record, and has tied her with Kelly Mazzante for the single-season school record overall.

Lucas is also the third player in Big Ten history, after Mazzante and Ohio State’s Caity Matter, to eclipse 100 or more 3s in a season. And she’s just a year removed from high school.

“It’s not something that comes on your own. I’m definitely getting a lot of looks,” Lucas said. “My teammates are putting me in position to score, and they trust me, even though I’m a freshman.”

But her basketball credentials were impressive before she ever set foot in Happy Valley.

The passion for basketball was honed growing up in a family that loved the game. Lucas is just the second McDonald’s High School All-American to suit up for the Lady Lions, and won the McDonald’s High School All-America 3-point contest.

Lucas averages 28 minutes a game and a team-high 16.3 points. She recorded her first start in the regular-season finale against Northwestern.

Her shot is drawing more attention, too, both on and off the court. Lucas has won the Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors eight times.

When asked to assess how Lucas has handled the notoriety, Washington instead deflected the attention to the whole team. Point guard Alex Bentley, guard-forward Julia Trogele and post player Nikki Greene also each received postseason accolades.

“The thing is we have four players that won awards,” Washington said. “It’s been about our team, and our team has done very well because it hasn’t been one person, or two people.”

Four years after taking the job, Washington has the Lady Lions on the upswing. But it wasn’t easy. A school that used to be a mainstay in the Top 25 finished 10th, eighth and sixth in Washington’s first three seasons.

But a youthful squad _ Trogele is the team’s only senior _ has re-energized the program. Penn State is deeper than in recent years, and Washington has more players to operate her up-tempo system.

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