Lucas relishes role as Penn State sharpshooter

Penn State guard Maggie Lucas talks to reporters after learning their NCAA college basketball tournament assignment on Monday, March 18, 2013, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey) MANDATORY CREDIT; MAGS OUT
Penn State guard Maggie Lucas talks to reporters after learning their NCAA college basketball tournament assignment on Monday, March 18, 2013, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey) MANDATORY CREDIT; MAGS OUT

Maggie Lucas made the rounds of youth sports growing up in the leafy near north Philadelphia suburb of Narberth, Pa. — soccer, lacrosse, a little track and field.

But it was basketball that put a grip on her and never let go.

Prime example: Until she was in about eighth grade, Lucas wouldn’t wear long pants anywhere.

“I literally wore basketball shorts every day of the year,” Lucas wrote about herself in the team media guide, “even to Christmas church.

“(You) never know when you’re gonna get a chance to shoot.”

And when Lucas’ shoots, you never know if she’s ever going to miss.

Actually, that part of her game is a bit of an illusion. Lucas shoots 44.4 percent from the field which is excellent, but not off the charts. Two starters from No. 14-seeded Cal Poly, No. 3 Penn State’s first round opponent here Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament’s Spokane Regional, shoot better than that.

It’s from beyond the 3-point arc that Lucas is particularly deadly.

The Lady Lions’ junior has made an uncanny 47.5 percent of her 3-point attempts this season (96 of 202), a percentage that ranks fourth in the country behind only Connecticut’s Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (50.0 percent), Karlee Taylor of Presbyterian (48.5) and Duke’s Tricia Liston (47.6).

“She’s very committed,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said of Lucas. “She’s shown how she’s filled her tank, if you will, that she can go on any court in any situation and make shots and help her team win.”

Caldwell certainly knows first hand of what she speaks.

A year ago at the PMAC with LSU a win away from its first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2008, Lucas almost single-handedly detonated those plans in the Lady Lions’ 90-80 second-round victory over the Lady Tigers.

Lucas poured in a game-high 30 points, raining down five 3-pointers on LSU and going 11-for-11 at the-free-throw line for good measure (Lucas is also ninth nationally this season with an 89.6 free-throw percentage).

“You can’t take a possession off,” Caldwell said.

In a sport where shooting around 50 percent appears to be the proverbial lost art, Lucas said she gets miffed whenever her shots don’t fall.

“I honestly do expect most of my shots to go in,” Lucas said. “I’ll go right to the gym (after a game) to work on what I need to fix.”

There hasn’t been much to tinker with.

Lucas averages 20.5 points per game, helping the 5-foot-10 junior earn Big Ten player of the year honors and a spot on the list of 15 finalists for this year’s Women’s Wooden Award.

Despite the accolades, Lucas has dedicated herself to driving more to the basket.

“I’ve worked on that the last couple of years to becoming a more all-around scorer,” she said.

Driven as she is, Lucas wishes she would have time to delve into some of the local cuisine while Penn State is on its second straight NCAA trip to Louisiana.

An admitted foodie, Lucas glumly acknowledged her coaches don’t plan to let the Lady Lions getting overloaded on some rich and spicy local dish.

“They don’t want us trying some crazy different foods,” Lucas said.

If her team can make a return trip to Louisiana in a couple of weeks for the Women’s Final Four in New Orleans Arena, maybe afterward there will be time for Lucas to indulge in one of her other passions.

For now, though, her passion for basketball will have to sustain her.

Who needs tickets?

The LSU Athletic Ticket Office will be closed Saturday, meaning NCAA tournament tickets will only be available online at LSUTix.net.

The ticket office on the upper concourse of the PMAC opens at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Ticket books for all three games are $25 for adults and $15 for children. Tickets for Sunday or Tuesday’s games are $15 for adults and $10 for children. Tickets for groups of 10 or more are available for $5 each.

LSU students are admitted free with a valid LSU identification.

Keeping up appearances

This will be Penn State’s 24th NCAA appearance. The Lady Lions are 29-23 all-time and at No. 3 in the Spokane Regional are enjoying their highest seed since they were a No. 1 in 2004.

LSU is making its 22nd NCAA appearance. The Lady Tigers are 39-21 all-time in the tournament, including 14 straight first-round wins dating back to 1997. LSU is 7-0 in first-round games in the PMAC.

Green Bay is in the NCAA tournament for the 14th time and fifth straight overall. The Phoenix is 6-13, but has won at least one tournament game each of the last three years since a 69-59 loss to LSU at the PMAC in 2009.

Cal Poly is making its first NCAA tournament appearance. The Mustangs won the Big West tournament and claimed the conference’s automatic bid.

We’re talking practice

Saturday and Monday’s practice sessions are closed to the public.

PMAC gates open at 3 p.m. Sunday, an hour in advance of the Penn State-Cal Poly game, and at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.