【N.J】 Wildcats open NCAAs against Cleveland State Saturday – New Jersey News

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RADNOR — Villanova’s Lucy Olsen had a huge smile on her face as she went through the swag bag of goodies each player receives for making the NCAA Tournament.

There was a hat, a March Madness sign, a backpack, shorts, a sweatshirt, some socks and skin care products.

“This is nice,” Olsen said of the array of gifts she had spread out in front of her in the locker room before practice Friday afternoon. “It’s pretty cool.”

Any time a college kid gets free stuff is reason to smile but the grin Olsen was sporting wasn’t a surprise. It’s one of her trademarks. No matter what the situation, especially on the court, the 5-9 sophomore guard from Spring-Ford always seems to have smile on her face.

“I am having fun out there,” Olsen said. “Whenever times get hard, Denise (Dillon, Villanova’s coach) reminds me to just find my joy in basketball. I play to have fun. If I’m not having fun, what am I doing out there?”

Olsen and the Wildcats (28-6) are having a blast. Not only are they in the tournament for the second year in a row but they get to host the first two rounds for the third time in program history and the first time since 1988.

Villanova is the No. 4 seed in the Greenville 2 Region and entertains No. 13 Cleveland State (30-4) in the second game of a doubleheader at the Pavilion Saturday afternoon (5 p.m.). Fifth-seeded Washington State (23-10) takes on No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast (32-3) in the opener at 2:30. Both games will be broadcast on ESPNU.

The Wildcats are one victory from tying the program record for wins in a season and Olsen has been a big part of that success. She has improved in every statistical category from when she made the Big East All-Rookie team as a freshman. She is second on the team in scoring (12.7 ppg, up from 7.0 last season). Olsen also leads the team in assists (4.4, up from 2.7), has improved her rebounding (4.0 from 2.7), raised her overall shooting percentage almost 15 points (38.8 from 23.9), upped her 3-point percentage from 30.7 to 35.3 and her free-throw percentage from 59.5 to 75.6 to earn second-team All-Big East honors. She ranks fifth nationally in assist/turnover ratio (151-53, 2.85).

Olsen credits her teammates for her success, but her work ethic has something to do with it, too. A self-described gym rat, it’s not uncommon for her to be in the Davis Center working out at 6:30 in the morning and then playing pickup games with the men’s club team in the Jake Nevin Field House at night.

“To Lucy’s credit, just the time she puts in is impressive,” Dillon said. “She gives everything she has at practice. She never skips steps. Every drill, she just gets after it. The amount of time she spends in the gym is remarkable.”

“I just love playing basketball with whoever and whenever,” Olsen said. “It’s fun.”

That drive isn’t new. She had a strong work ethic at Spring-Ford, where she is the all-time leader in scoring (1,699) and assists (379), earned first-team all-state honors twice, was named the Pottstown Mercury Player of the Year three times and Miss Pennsylvania Basketball in 2021. She also was a member of Spring-Ford’s tennis team that won the PIAA Class 3A team title in 2020.

Once she got to college, though, Olsen quickly realized she had to take her game and work ethic up a notch. Seeing the work All-American Maddy Siegrist puts in on a daily basis will do that to a player.

“Maddy Siegrist is just amazing,” Olsen said. “I’ve never played with anyone better than her. Her work ethic shows how good you can get by working hard every day. She’s inspired me so much. She’s the definition of hard work.”

Olsen isn’t far from that level if you believe Dillon, who called Olsen a “Mini Maddy” earlier in the season for Olsen’s willingness to put in the time and effort to improve.

“That’s the best compliment I could ever get,” Olsen said with a smile.

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