-- Nothing irritated Penn State scoring sensation Kelly Mazzante more last year than when someone referred to the Lady Lions' record when Mazzante scored 30 or more points. Penn State went 8-4 in those games, but Mazzante felt she was being unfairly singled out.
This season, Mazzante has scored 30 or more points 10 times and averages 24.3 points, yet Penn State is no longer seen as a one-player show.
"I haven't seen that [stat] this season and that means a lot to me," said Mazzante, who has scored 30 or more points 10 times this season and averages 24.3 points per game. "I've scored under 10, and we've still won. That's why our team is so good because we've gotten used to [her not scoring]. They understand they can step up and score. The coaches put in an offense where everybody has an opportunity to score."
Penn State's reliance on Mazzante, the Big Ten player of the year, has not completely diminished. She accounts for 31 percent of the Lady Lions' offense and has led the team in scoring in 24 games this season. But if fourth-seeded Penn State (26-8) hopes to advance past top-seeded Tennessee (30-4) in Saturday's Mideast Region semifinal at Thompson-Boling Arena, it knows Mazzante can't do it alone.
"Kelly is a great player," sophomore guard Tanisha Wright said. "But when [she is closely defended], everyone takes the initiative to step up and do things."
That wasn't the case last season. Wright and the other players often stood around and marveled at Mazzante's scoring ability. Too often they were caught watching her score rather than helping her score or trying to score themselves.
Penn State Coach Rene Portland also contributed to the one-dimensional aspect of the Lady Lions' offense. Because of the youth and inexperience on her team, Portland installed an offense designed entirely around Mazzante. She copied many of the strategies Southwest Missouri State used two seasons ago to create scoring opportunities for its standout player, Jackie Stiles.
The strategy seemed to benefit Mazzante more than it did Penn State. Mazzante led the nation in scoring and earned all-American honors, but Penn State lost in the round of 16 to Connecticut. The Huskies held Mazzante to 15 points in that game.
This season, Portland retooled the offense and added plays for Wright, who averages 16.1 points, and junior guard Jess Brungo, who averages 11.7 points. As a result, Penn State has much more balanced scoring and is much more difficult to defend.
"Kelly gets junked a whole lot -- a box and one, a triangle and two, a diamond and one," Portland said. "It's been good. Last year when that happened to us, we automatically lost. This year, it's been very different because [the other players] understand that they can bring something to the table."