No. 8 Penn State women rout Nebraska, 80-58
UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) – Hunched over with arms outstretched, Penn State’s guards strike menacing poses as they wait for opponents to bring the ball up the court.
The eighth-ranked Lady Lions’ best offense comes when Alex Bentley, Maggie Lucas or Dara Taylor get their fingers on the ball for a steal.
Bentley had 19 points and five steals, Taylor added eight assists and three picks, and Penn State’s defense created havoc all over the floor to beat Nebraska 80-58 on Sunday.
Lucas scored 19 on 5-of-16 shooting, while Ariel Edwards added 15 of the bench for the Lady Lions (13-2, 3-0), who won their seventh straight.
“If we want to continue to be a team to be reckoned with in this conference, it’s going to be on the defensive end, not the end offensive end,” coach Coquese Washington said. “We want to dictate games at the defensive end of the floor.”
And that they did after holding the Huskers (12-5, 2-2) to just 31 percent from the field. Emily Cady had 17 points and nine rebounds to lead Nebraska.
The Huskers had 19 turnovers, 13 coming off Penn State steals thanks in large part to Washington’s pesky backcourt.
“There’s a reason why Penn State is a Top 10 team,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. “You can’t turn those turnovers into transition points.”
After a choppy start, Penn State pulled away with a 14-4 run over the final 3 minutes of the first half.
Bentley hit a 3 to start the run before Taylor stole an inbounds pass and flipped the ball quick to Lucas, who was fouled. Lucas hit 1 of 2 from the line, but center Nikki Greene converted the offensive rebound for a nine-point lead.
Then Bentley had another backcourt steal with 2 seconds left, letting up just beyond the halfcourt line and heaving up a shot that sailed right into the net for an improbable 3 just before the buzzer for a 40-27 lead.
Bentley pumped her arms and got a hug from a smiling Washington as Jordan Center fans smiled and roared in disbelief. It’s the kind of long-range shot expected from prolific 3-point shooter Lucas, not Bentley.
“That last play of the half was huge,” Yori said. “It’s not a dagger, but it also gave them a lot of momentum.”
And an already poised team gained even more confidence going into the second half.
“It was a great energy-giver,” said Edwards before she turned to praise Bentley sitting next to her. “We appreciate that shot.”
Penn State led by as much as 26 in the second half against cold-shooting Nebraska.
After starting the game shooting 4 of 8 over the game’s opening 4 minutes, Nebraska managed to hit just 18 of 62 (29 percent) the rest of way. Penn State converged quickly on shooters and kept up withering pressure in the backcourt.
The Lady Lions had struggled early in the halfcourt before turning to its tried-and-true formula of defense and the transition game to take control. It was their second straight solid defensive outing after holding Michigan State to 29 percent shooting in East Lansing in their previous game on Jan. 6.
“Defense can be a constant,” Washington said. “We want to be a great offensive team, but we don’t want to be a team where we just want to outscore people.”
The backcourt play carried over to the frontcourt, especially in the second half. Forward Mia Nickson had eight of her 11 rebounds after halftime, while Greene (nine points, 10 rebounds) created space with some key buckets down low.
The 6-foot-3 Edwards, the first Lady Lion off bench, gave the Huskers fits all afternoon too with her ability to drive and gets rebounds. She finished 6-of-8 shooting with six rebounds.
The Lady Lions are practically unbeatable when they’re getting frontcourt production, since Bentley and Lucas together average nearly 32 points a game.
Nebraska standout guard Lindsey Moore had a frustrating day with 11 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Her miss on a wide-open layup early in the second half was emblematic of Nebraska’s day-long woes.
Bentley corralled the rebound and moved the ball quickly up the floor to Greene, who followed up on her own miss for a 44-27 lead with 18:50 left.
Jordan Hooper finished with 11 points for Nebraska on 5-of-16 shooting. The Huskers were just 5 of 25 (20 percent) from 3-point range.