Penn State guard Kelly Mazzante has been the heart and soul of the Nittany Lions women”s basketball team in her first two years. In her short career, she has already set records in the Big Ten, winning Big Ten Player of the Week Honors three times in her freshman year. More recently, she scored a Big Ten single-game record, 49 points against Minnesota last month. But one of her records will haunt her on Sunday Mazzante owns an 0-3 record against Michigan. From the beginning of the season “trying to get revenge on Michigan” has been one of her goals.
In her freshman season, Mazzante was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and co-National Freshman of the Year. She also won the Big Ten scoring title, averaging 18.8 points per game. But the Wolverines held Mazzante under her average in all three games, including limiting her to just 12 points in a 66-60 victory over the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten Tournament.
This year, Mazzante is not only the leading scorer in the Big Ten but she is also the leading scorer in the nation, averaging 26.3 points per game. Her production is due in large part to her role in the offense. Penn State tries to put the ball into Mazzante”s hands every time down the court, and she is always ready to capitalize.
“When I get a shot in the offense or an opportunity, I”m going to take it,” Mazzante said.
A prolific shooter, Mazzante puts up an average of 20.6 shots per game. But this is exactly what Penn State coach Rene Portland wants from her sophomore sensation. Portland will use multiple screens and various other techniques to get Mazzante her shots.
“I go into the game wanting to win and improve my game,” Mazzante said.
There is not much that Mazzante needs to improve, as she is nearly a complete player for Penn State. At six feet, she is big enough to post up, but her quickness and outside shooting make her one of the premier shooting guards in the Big Ten. Mazzante is able to beat defenders with her outside shot, off the dribble or with her back to the basket, depending on what the situation requires. A complete player also has to play defense, which Mazzante can. She leads the team in defensive rebounds and steals.
With so many facets to her game Mazzante is not even sure how to guard herself.
“I don”t know how I would stop myself,” Mazzante said.
The task of guarding Mazzante will probably fall to Michigan”s Stephanie Gandy on Sunday. Gandy is considered one of Michigan”s best defenders because of her athleticism and quickness, which will be tested to her limits by Mazzante the hottest player in women”s basketball right now. Mazzante”s latest honor was the Women”s Basketball Coaches Association National Player of the Month award in December.
“First I think you have to contest her three, and if she starts getting hot on threes we”re dead,” Gandy said. “And then you just try to look for your help when she penetrates to the basket. That”s all you can do.”
At times this season, help-side defense has been a problem area for the Wolverines, but they will have to play their best team defense to contain Mazzante. Even then, it will be almost impossible to totally stop her. Instead, Gandy and the Wolverines hope to take away some of her options.
“She”s a good player. She has ways of scoring, so you have to try to shut down one dimension of her game,” Gandy said.
Gandy will have to run through Penn State”s numerous screens to try to stay with Mazzante. While slightly shorter than Mazzante, Gandy has no fear of the Penn State guard”s post game.
“I have post defense, I can guard her,” Gandy said with a smile. “If someone smaller is on her she will try to post them up, if she tries to post me up she”s not going to get a shot off.”