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posted: 3/5/2013 8:54 PM

Players to watch in Big Ten women's tournament

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  • Penn State's Maggie Lucas (33) shoots over Nebraska's Rachel Theriot and Jordan Hooper (35) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Sunday, March 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

      Penn State's Maggie Lucas (33) shoots over Nebraska's Rachel Theriot and Jordan Hooper (35) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Sunday, March 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
    Associated Press

  • Minnesota guard Rachel Banham, right, looks to make a pass against Penn State guard Alex Bentley (20) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

      Minnesota guard Rachel Banham, right, looks to make a pass against Penn State guard Alex Bentley (20) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
    Associated Press

 
 

The Big Ten women's basketball conference tournament tips off in the Chicago area Thursday for the first time in its 19-year history.

There will be plenty of talent to go around at the Sears Centre, but how about this for a dream starting lineup? Here are five Big Ten players to watch this weekend:

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Maggie Lucas, Penn State:

Named the Big Ten's player of the year earlier this week, Lucas never met a shot she didn't like, especially from long range. The 5-foot-10 junior guard is one of the nation's most efficient shooters from 3-point range. She leads the Big Ten with a stunning 47 percent clip and has nailed 86 3-pointers on the season, second most in the league. Lucas ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring at 20.5 points per game and is a big reason Penn State won the Big Ten regular-season championship.

Kate Thompson, Michigan: At 6-4, you'd think Thompson would be cleaning up in the post. But she's actually a 3-point specialist. In fact, Thompson leads the entire nation in 3-pointers made with 104 over 29 games. That's nearly 4 treys per game. She's a great role model for players who are frustrated with their roles or their playing time: She spent of the first three years of her career as a reserve and never started a single game. Now she has a chance at playing at the next level.

Jordan Hooper, Nebraska: There might not be a better name for a basketball player. Hooper hoops like Michael Jordan in the sense that she can score in a variety of ways. Ranked among the top five rebounders in the Big Ten, the 6-2 junior is tough to stop inside. But she's also one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in the league, having knocked down almost 70 3-pointers this season. Overall, Hooper averages nearly 18 points and 9 rebounds.

Tayler Hill, Ohio State: A starter on her high school's varsity team as an eighth grader, Hill has long faced high expectations. And she has hit the mark over and over again. The 5-10 senior guard arrived at Ohio State having scored 3,888 points in high school, more than any other girl or boy in the history of the state of Minnesota. Hill has been just at good at finding the basket at the college level. She has led the Big Ten in scoring off and on this season, She ranks second in the league at 20.9 points per game. Defense also is a big part of Hill's game; she ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 2.3 steals per game.

Rachel Banham, Minnesota: Fans in Minneapolis frequently compare Banham to golden girl Lindsay Whalen, now a star guard in the WNBA who led Minnesota to its first and only Women's Final Four in 2004. Just a sophomore, Banham, a 5-9 guard, already is starting to break some of Whalen's records. She has a nose for the basket and leads the Big Ten in scoring with 21 points per game. Banham also ranks among the top 10 in the conference in assists (4.1 apg) and steals (2 spg).

The locals

Looking for the best talent close to home? Keep an eye on Illinois senior forward Karisma Penn, who was averaging a double-double all season until her rebounding average recently dipped to 9.9. Penn, who also scores 19.4 points per game, is a big reason Illinois could go from a sub-.500 team to an NCAA team in one season. Northwestern rookie forward Maggie Lyon out of New Trier was named the Big Ten's freshman of the year this week. She averages nearly 13 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. She won the last three Big Ten freshman of the week awards.

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