UNIVERSITY PARK - The Penn State women's basketball team won its 20th game of the season Sunday. In the process, the Lady Lions completed a rare season sweep of Michigan State and edged closer to a second straight Big Ten title.
One person not moved by these accomplishments was Coquese Washington.
"I really don't get into all of that," the Penn State coach said following her team's 71-56 victory at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Washington was more concerned with how her team responded after missing 15 of its first 19 shots and falling behind by nine points in the first half.
"It's about improving," she said. "It's about taking on all the challenges that are going to come our way. We're going to have physical challenges. We're going to have mental challenges. We're going to hit adversity throughout the game. Can we bounce back? This is one game where we faced everything. We faced everything that they could throw at us."
Alex Bentley scored 24 points for No. 8 Penn State (20-3, 10-1 Big Ten), which outscored Michigan State 20-5 over a seven-minute stretch spanning both halves to take control of the game.
Maggie Lucas scored 19 points for the Lady Lions, and Nikki Greene added 13 points and six rebounds.
Annalise Pickrel scored 16 points to lead Michigan State (18-5, 6-4).
The Lady Lions, who won by 21 points Jan. 6 in East Lansing, Mich., swept the Spartans for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
"It means a lot," said Greene about the season sweep. "It has shown our improvement over the years."
But a win was far from a sure thing for the Lady Lions, who struggled at the outset. Penn State, which had more turnovers (six) than baskets (four) through the first 12 minutes, trailed 20-11 with 7:36 left in the first half.
"Offensively, in the first half, we were just playing too slow," Washington said. "We weren't running. We weren't pushing the ball up the floor when we had opportunities to. As I told the team, we were kind of muddling through on offense."
Down by nine, Penn State ran off eight straight points over the next two minutes. Greene had three consecutive baskets during this spurt, two coming off steals from Dara Taylor and Bentley. Greene's rebound and layup off a Bentley miss made it 20-19.
The Spartans built their back to 24-19 before Penn State's defense took over and sparked the decisive run.
The Lady Lions held the Spartans without a basket over the final 5:13 of the first half. Michigan State missed its final six shots and committed three turnovers.
"We always feed off our defense," Bentley said. "That's really where it starts. We want to play fast. In order to play fast, we have to get at it on the defensive end. So, we're in passing lanes and we're pressuring up."
It was Bentley's jumper and two free throws that tied the game at 25-25. Ariel Edwards hit two free throws to give the Lady Lions their first lead with 2:02 remaining and a 3-pointer from Lucas made it a five-point game just before halftime.
Penn State then connected on its first three shots of the second half, highlighted by a 3-pointer from Lucas, to build its lead up to 10 points at 39-29. The Lady Lions, who shot 56 percent in the second half, led by as many as 19.
"We found some more energy [on offense] late in the first half, played faster, moved the ball more and that carried over into the second half," Washington said.
With the victory, the Lady Lions increased their winning streak at home to 18 games. Combined with Purdue's loss to Michigan, it gave Penn State a two-game lead in the loss column with five games left in the race for the Big Ten title.
MICHIGAN ST. (18-5): Johnson 1-4 1-2 3, Thomas 3-10 2-2 8, Hines 4-8 0-0 8, Bell 3-7 0-1 7, Schiffauer 2-9 4-4 9, Pickrel 6-12 1-2 16, Taylor 0-0 0-0 0, Mills 2-8 0-1 5. Totals 21-58 8-12 56.
PENN ST. (20-3): Taylor 1-9 0-0 2, Bentley 9-16 6-7 24, Nickson 3-8 3-7 9, Lucas 6-13 4-4 19, Greene 5-7 3-5 13, East 1-3 0-0 2, Edwards 0-1 2-2 2, Studevent 0-0 0-0 0, Waldner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-57 18-25 71.
Halftime-Penn St. 32-27. 3-Point Goals-Michigan St. 6-16 (Pickrel 3-8, Bell 1-1, Mills 1-1, Schiffauer 1-5, Johnson 0-1), Penn St. 3-6 (Lucas 3-3, Bentley 0-1, Taylor 0-2). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Michigan St. 41 (Schiffauer 10), Penn St. 33 (Greene 6). Assists-Michigan St. 15 (Thomas 5), Penn St. 8 (Bentley, Taylor 3). Total Fouls-Michigan St. 20, Penn St. 14. A-6,325.