(INDIANAPOLIS, IND.) - The top-seeded Penn State Lady Lions (24-5, 13-3) shook off early jitters and scored 49 second-half points as they erased a 13-point deficit and picked up a 78-74 win over No. 8 seed Minnesota (15-17, 6-10) in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. The Lady Lions will now face No. 4 seed Purdue at approximately 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the semifinals.
Sophomore guard Maggie Lucas (Narberth, Pa.) led all five starters in double figures with 24 points, including 15 markers in the second frame. Lucas was 9-for-9 from the free throw line and connected on a trio of three-pointers. She also pulled in seven rebounds and two assists in the win. Senior Zhaque Gray (Chicago, Ill.) added 19 points, including a 4-for-6 effort from three-point range, while Alex Bentley (Indianapolis, Ind.0 chipped in 12 points, five assists and seven steals.
After a quiet first half, Nikki Greene (Diboll, Texas) was 4-for-5 from the field en route to 11 points in the closing frame. She also pulled in eight rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. Junior Mia Nickson (Ashburn, Va.) also reached double figures with 10 points to go along with eight rebounds and three steals.
The Lady Lions started strong, scoring five of the first seven points of the game on a jumper by Nickson and a three-pointer by Gray, but the Golden Gophers responded with a 9-0 run to take an 11-5 lead just over three minutes into the game. A pair of Gray three-pointers sandwiched around one Gopher free throw cut the lead to one (12-11) with 14:43 remaining on the clock.
The Golden Gophers pushed the lead to 11 (25-14) thanks to a 13-3 run with less than 10 minutes to play. A pair of Lucas free throws and a layup by Talia East (Philadelphia, Pa.) on the Lucas feed cut into the deficit with nine minutes left, but Minnesota would score the game's next six points to make it a 31-18 game with less than eight minutes left in the half.
Penn State bounced back with an 11-3 run to close within five at 34-29 with just over three minutes to play. Lucas and Nickson each accounted for four points during the run. The Gophers closed the scoring in the half with a Brianna Mastey bucket to make it a 36-29 lead for Minnesota at the break.
Gray and Lucas each tallied nine points in the first half to pace the Penn State offense. The Lady Lions shot just 29.4% from the field in the opening frame, while the Gophers connected on 51.7% of their shots. Penn State was also hampered by 11 turnovers.
The Lady Lions came out strong to start the second half with a three-pointer by Lucas to kick-start a 16-2 run. During the run Nikki Greene (Diboll, Texas) converted on a three-point play to give Penn State its first lead since early in the first half and followed it up with another bucket. Gray closed the run with a three-pointer to make it 45-38 with 14:20 left.
Minnesota bounced by scoring five of the next six points to close within three (46-43) with 12:27 left. The Lady Lions swapped a three-pointer by Lucas for a layup by Rachel Banham to make it a 49-45 Penn State lead. Out of the eight-minute media timeout, Nickson connected on a pair of free throws, which was followed by a steal and layup by Bentley. On the ensuing Minnesota possession, Bentley once again nabbed the steal and found a streaking Lucas for an old-fashioned three-point play. Gray capped the 9-0 Penn State run with a pair of free throws to give the Lady Lions a 58-45 lead with 10:13 to play.The Gophers continued to fight and clicked off a 9-0 run to close within four (58-54) with less than six minutes left. After an exchange of scores, the Lady Lions used buckets by four different players for an 8-2 run to push the lead back to 10 (68-58) with 5:14 remaining. Minnesota went on a 11-5 run to close within four and after Bentley missed a pair of free throws, the Gopher made it a one-possession game (73-71) after a pair of freebies. Bentley connected on one of two from the line on the ensuing possession to extend the lead to three and Gray made both of her shots from the line after a Penn State stop with 13 seconds left. After a deep three by Banham made it a 76-74 game, Lucas hit both of her free throws to seal the win.
--PSU Athletic Communications--