Lady Lions Defeat Big Ten Rival Illinois 95-62
If there is such a term as an “ugly blowout win,” the Penn State women’s basketball team earned one on Wednesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center in front of a crowd of 4,539. The No. 7 Lady Lions (23-3, 12-1 Big Ten) defeated conference foe Illinois (15-10, 8-5 Big Ten) 95-62 in a game that saw plenty of good and plenty of bad.
“I thought we played well in spurts,” said Penn State head coach Coquese Washington.
The positives came in the form of offensive production. Penn State controlled the pace from the opening tip, jumping out to a 32-15 lead halfway through the first half.
Once again, they were led by All-American and Wooden Award candidate Maggie Lucas, who during the Lady Lions early game surge, opened 4-for-4 from the field and 3-for-3 from the three point line. Lucas finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Also eclipsing the 20-point barrier for the game was fellow All-American and Wooden candidate Alex Bentley. Bentley totaled 20 points, seven assists and five boards while shooting 75 percent from the field.
In addition to the scoring output from Lucas and Bentley, Mia Nickson tallied 13 points and freshman Candice Agee tied her career-high with eight points. Four Lady Lions finished in double figures.
As a team, the Lady Lions shot 61.1 percent from the field, marking the first time Penn State has shot over 60 percent for a game since Feb. 23, 1996 against Michigan State.
Additionally, 61.1 percent is the highest shooting percentage the Lady Lions have ever recorded in a Big Ten matchup since joining the conference for the 1992-1993 season. The 95 total points also marks the first time Penn State has scored that much in a Big Ten conference game since Feb. 3, 2002.
“I thought we did a good job of making the extra pass and finding the wide open person,” Washington said of her team’s offensive performance.
More positives came in accordance with a season-long theme as pressure defense helped the Lady Lions to a 21 point halftime lead of 54-33.
Mostly in the latter minutes of the first half, Bentley recorded three steals. Junior guard Dara Taylor, in one of her best all-around performances since joining the team, had four steals in the first half. Both finished with five steals a piece as Penn State scored 24 of its points off of turnovers.
“Transition was clicking for us early,” said Lucas. “I thought Dara and Alex did a great job of pressuring the ball and were able to cause a few turnovers.”
Aiding the Penn State defensive efforts were blocked shots. Agee had a career-high three blocks and Tori Waldner had a team high four off of the bench. The 10 blocked shots as a team is the most blocked shots the Lady Lions have recorded since Jan. 28, 2010, when they had 11 against Purdue.
“Those are momentum changing plays for our team,” said Washington. “Our team gets excited by those, and then they very often lead to us going in transition.”
The negatives manifested in the second half. After a Gizelle Studevent jumper extended the Penn State lead to 27 points with 13:16 left in the game, twice the Illini were able to go on runs and cut the margin to inside of 20. The Illini defense tallied 11 steals in the second half of play, 18 total, en route to forcing 29 Lady Lion turnovers, 19 of them in the second frame alone.
“I thought there were some stretches of the game where we were pretty sloppy,” said Washington. “I thought there were times of the game where we could have played with a little bit more composure.”
The Lady Lions return to action on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. against the Michigan Wolverines. Sunday is senior day and marks the final career home game for a few of Penn State’s key contributors including Bentley, Nickson and Nikki Greene. It is also the Lady Lions’ Seventh Annual Pink Zone game, bringing awareness to the fight against breast cancer.
ComRadio will have live play-by-play coverage from the Bryce Jordan Center starting at 1 p.m.
Philip Constantino is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org