Published October 25, 2012
ROSEMONT, Ill. – Penn State may be favored to rule Big Ten women's basketball again, but coach Coquese Washington prefers to wait and see.
The defending regular season champs return four starters, including a preseason co-player of the year Alex Bentley.
"I don't think about it in terms of our preseason ranking and I never have," said Washington after the Nittany Lions were selected the top team at Big Ten media day on Thursday. "It really doesn't matter where you are in October. What's important is how you get better (through) the season and how you end."
Washington, who carries a 92-67 career record into her sixth season, has plenty of tools to build on last season's success.
Bentley averaged 14.1 points and led the team in assists (156) and steals (98) to help the Lions claim their sixth Big Ten regular season title. They finished 26-7 overall and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004.
She's joined by the conference's third-leading scorer Maggie Lucas (19.4 points) and No. 2 rebounder Nikki Greene (9.1).
Penn State also welcomes freshman center Candice Agee, a gold-medal winner last summer with Team USA's Under-18 squad and McDonald's High School All-American.
"(Alex) did everything I asked her to do that year in terms of being a better floor general and running the team," Washington said. "(Nikki's) confidence level is really high, probably the highest I've seen since she's been here. That's going to make a big impact for her development on the court."
Bentley shared top preseason player honors with Ohio State senior guard Tayler Hill, a 2011-12 Big Ten first team honoree who averaged 20.3 points.
Nebraska, picked second by coaches and media, returns four starters. Purdue, the reigning Big Ten tournament champion, was third among coaches, while Ohio State was third in media rankings.
"On paper we have 66 points returning and 38 rebounds returning," said Huskers coach Connie Yori. "A couple of times last week we practiced with 23 points and 15 points because of where we are injury-wise. The key right now is for us to get healthy."
Bentley, Lucas and Hill plus Nebraska's Jordan Hooper were all-Big Ten last year and picked to the preseason coaches team.
They're joined by Iowa's Morgan Johnson, Minnesota's Rachel Banham and Purdue's Courtney Moses.
Seven Big Ten teams made the NCAA tournament. Penn State reached the second round before falling to Final Four participant Connecticut. Minnesota won the Women's Basketball Invitational.
"The Big Ten was very deep last year with a lot of talent," Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. "We have a great chance of doing that again with the quality of players."