Lady Lions claim Big Ten title with win at Nebraska
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Penn State wanted the Big Ten championship all to itself, and the Lady Lions played like it.
Maggie Lucas scored 34 points to lead the seventh-ranked Lady Lions to an 82-67 victory over No. 20 Nebraska on Sunday, clinching their second straight outright conference championship and ending the Cornhuskers’ 10-game win streak.
“It’s important to us. We didn’t want to share it,” Lucas said.
And now that the league title is locked up?
“We have more things to accomplish,” Lucas said.
Lucas made a career-high eight 3-pointers, with four of them coming in a bunch to help the Lady Lions stretch their lead in the first half and three more keeping the Huskers at bay early in the second.
“I took them when they were there… Just let it fly,” said Lucas, who set the Devaney Center record with her 3s.
Penn State (24-4, 14-2) improved to 6-1 against ranked opponents and secured its best conference record since going 15-1 in 2003-04.
The Huskers (22-7, 12-4) were playing their last game at the Devaney Center, their home for 37 seasons. They move into a new downtown arena next season.
Penn State and Nebraska go into this week’s Big Ten tournament as the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, and if things go right for the Lady Lions there, they’ll be in line for a lofty seeding for the NCAA tournament.
“If they keep doing what they’re doing, they’re capable of being an Elite Eight or Final Four type of team,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said.
Nebraska would love to get another crack at the Lady Lions, who beat them twice this season.
“We had our chances and that’s one of the biggest things that’s frustrating,” Nebraska’s Lindsey Moore said. “We had good shots. We had good looks. It’s a matter of finishing them. We know we can battle with them and that the score can be closer than this one.”
Alex Bentley scored 13 points and Mia Nickson and Nikki Greene 10 apiece for Penn State. Lucas added nine rebounds.
Penn State shot 69.2 percent in the second half and 52.5 percent for the game.
Moore led the Huskers with 23 points, Emily Cady added 15 points and 10 rebounds and Jordan Hooper had 14 points for Nebraska.
Lucas, Division I’s active career leader in 3-point percentage, hit four 3s while scoring 14 points in an 18-7 spurt that put the Lady Lions up 24-15. The Huskers closed to 31-30 with 2 minutes left in the first half, but the Lady Lions scored seven of the next nine points and led 38-32 after Lucas drilled a jumper in the lane just ahead of the buzzer.
“Every time she shoots, I’m surprised if it doesn’t go in,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “She didn’t take any bad shots. They were all good looks.”
Moore, the Huskers’ star point guard who made her school record-tying 127th start, hit a couple early 3-pointers and scored 11 points in the first half, but she sat out most of the final 4:26 of the half after committing her third foul.
Moore finished 9 for 11 from the field but committed eight turnovers after having come into the game with a 2.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Hooper got the Huskers within 40-37 with a three-point play made possible by Rachel Theriot’s zippy entry pass that Hooper converted into a layup with Greene hanging on her.
The Huskers could get no closer, thanks to Lucas.
Set up in front of her bench with the ball, she called for a teammate to set a screen for her. A teammate obliged her, and she moved a couple steps to her left and let fly a 3-pointer for a 45-37 lead.
Lucas made another one to make it a nine-point game, and she answered Hooper’s 3-pointer with her career high-tying seventh of the game to make it 51-45.
“Once a shooter gets going, the rim looks pretty big,” Yori said. “She hit shots in a lot of different ways. We didn’t do a good enough job of being on her on the catch.”
Penn State couldn’t pull away until Nebraska went into a scoring drought that lasted almost five minutes.
“When they needed a bucket, they got it. When we needed one, we couldn’t get it,” Moore said.
The Lady Lions came into the game already having clinched the top seed in this week’s Big Ten tournament. But Nebraska was given an opportunity to play for a share of the regular-season title after the Lady Lions were upset at Minnesota on Thursday.
Nebraska, which finished sixth last year in its inaugural Big Ten season, bounced back from a tough start in conference to put itself in position for a co-championship. The Huskers lost three of their first five Big Ten games and were in eighth place before taking off on the second-longest win streak in program history.
The Huskers had held opponents to an average of 52.8 points during the streak, but Lucas and the Lady Lions were too much for them Sunday.
Penn State got a scare when the 6-foot-4 Greene was knocked flat on her back after Nebraska 5-7 guard Brandi Jeffery ran into her full speed under the Huskers’ basket with 11:40 left in the game. Two athletic trainers attended to Greene for a couple minutes and helped her to the bench. She re-entered the game less than 2 minutes later.
“She just took a shot to the head,” Washington said. “We wanted to take every precaution to make sure there is no trauma. She’s a warrior.”