Mazzante closes in on conference scoring mark

Updated: January 15, 2004, 1:24 PM ET
By Melanie Jackson | Special to ESPN.com

Who is the best women's college basketball player in the Big Ten?

That question has often led to much debate. Some say Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen. Others pick Purdue's Shereka Wright. And still some go with Penn State's Kelly Mazzante.

MY TAKE ON MAZZANTE
Nancy LiebermanKelly Mazzante is one of the finest shooters our game has seen and should be selected among the top seven picks in April's WNBA draft. She's intelligent, tremendously efficient on offense and a big-time scorer. Mazzante is a better finisher than people think, and a much better defender, too. She's a wonderful all-around, full-court player. Offensively, only UConn's Diana Taurasi and Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen can shoot the ball as well. Yes, Nicole Powell and Alana Beard can shoot it, too. But with Mazzante, Taurasi and Whalen, their shot is their magic.

At the pro level, Mazzante needs to get in the weight room and get stronger. She's going to have to defend 2s and 3s, so she needs to continue to work on her on-ball defense. Everybody is going to be as long and at least as quick as she is, if not quicker. So Mazzante needs to continue to improve her knowledge of angles defensively and be strong enough to take a pounding every night.
-- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman
But there's no question who the conference's best scorer is.

Mazzante could become the all-time leading scorer in Big Ten women's basketball history tonight, when the Lady Lions travel to Michigan. Mazzante -- who is averaging 22.4 points -- is 27 points shy of tying the record, held by former Ohio State standout Katie Smith, who tallied 2,578 points from 1992-96.

If Mazzante, who has scored 2,551 points in her career, doesn't break the record on Thursday, her next chance to top the mark comes at home Sunday against Illinois.

Still, Mazzante insists the mark means nothing to her and would rather focus her energies on keeping Penn State (11-3, 4-0) perfect in league play.

"I guess I just don't understand the magnitude of breaking the Big Ten scoring record, to be quite honest,'' she said. "My teammates and I were just sitting there talking last night about the games we have coming up and how crucial they are. That's what our team's focused on, because we know what it's like to win a Big Ten championship and we want to repeat.''

Mazzante has been one of the nation's most productive offensive players since she arrived at Penn State. She has led the Big Ten in conference-game scoring for the past three seasons and was the leading scorer in D-I ball as a sophomore when she averaged 24.9 points in 2001-02. Mazzante became Penn State's leading scorer for men and women on Nov. 21.

Mazzante, who opened the season at fourth place on the Big Ten career scoring list, will also likely break the conference's all-time scoring mark for men and women by season's end. Indiana's Calbert Cheaney scored 2,613 -- 62 more points than Mazzante has to date -- from 1990-93.

Mazzante has scored 30 or more points in 27 career games (including four this season), and has tallied at least 20 points in 68 outings.

And then there was one
Texas Tech, the top-ranked team in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, suffered its first loss of the season on Wednesday, falling to Iowa State. Things don't get much easier for the Lady Raiders, who face Baylor on Saturday.

And you might say the Lady Bears have a bit of momentum on their side. Baylor handed No. 3 Texas its second loss of the season and ended the Longhorns' seven-game winning streak on Wednesday.

Now, Minnesota (14-0) is the only undefeated team in the nation. The Golden Gophers host Illinois tonight.

Quote of the week
"There's nothing we can fix with our fundamentals. We need to find something inside of us. Right now, we're all floating around out there, and we need to pull it together and play as a team.'' -- UConn's Diana Taurasi, after the Huskies fell to unranked Notre Dame on Jan. 13

Melanie Jackson coordinates ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail the Dish at Melanie.J.Jackson.-ND@espn3.com.

Melanie Jackson | email

Women's Basketball
Melanie Jackson is ESPN.com's women's basketball editor.