Lucas, defense key Lady Lions to rout

UNIVERSITY PARK – The hottest defense in the Big Ten Conference was at it again Sunday.

Maggie Lucas scored 25 points and the Penn State women’s basketball team held a fourth consecutive opponent to fewer than 55 points by blowing out Minnesota 83-53 at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Ariel Edwards scored 16 points and Dara Taylor added 15 points and 10 assists for Penn State (15-4, 6-1 Big Ten), which has won four straight and nine of its past 10.

The Lady Lions have surged to the top of the Big Ten standings behind a stifling defense which has allowed an average of 50 points over its past four games. Penn State last held four straight conference opponents to fewer than 55 points during the 1999-2000 season.

“I thought we started pretty strong, especially defensively,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “When we come out and we are locked in defensively, making the other team take tough shots, then that is a great place for us to be in.”

Rachel Banham, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, had 25 points for Minnesota (13-8, 2-5). Amanda Zahui added 16 points and 12 rebounds.

Minnesota, the top 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten coming in at 43 percent, was held to 20 percent (2-for-10).

“You can’t give great shooters easy open looks,” Washington said. “Our focus was just to be there when they caught the ball and not give them great looks.”

Taylor, who also had four steals, notched her second career double-double.

“Dara was really in control of the tempo of the game,” Washington said. “She is growing in that area and really managing the game and managing the team and making sure that things are flowing on the offensive end.”

The senior guard was involved at the outset. She had six points, and added a steal and an assist in the game’s first four minutes, as Penn State jumped ahead 13-4.

Minnesota, meanwhile, struggled to find any source of offense over the game’s first 20 minutes. Only Banham and Kayla Hirt scored for the Golden Gophers in the first half, and Banham attempted 16 of the team’s 30 shots.

“I just think they are big,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said about Penn State’s defense. “They are just big. They protect the rim and they don’t give you a lot of easy shots inside and a lot of penetration to the basket. They go 6-5 and 6-3 across the front line. That’s just a big lineup.”

A basket from Edwards gave Penn State its first double-digit lead, 23-12, with 11:08 left in the first half. From there, the Lady Lions gradually built their lead. Talia East’s layup made it a 20-point game just before halftime and Taylor’s jumper with 45 seconds left made it 44-22 at the intermission.

Lucas, who posted her 57th career 20-point game, gave Penn State its biggest lead for most of the second half when her 3-pointer made it 57-30 with 14:57 left.

Minnesota’s offensive struggles continued over the final 20 minutes. Banham and Zahui, who were the team’s only source of scoring for the first 15 minutes of the second half, combined on a 12-2 run that cut Penn State’s lead to 17 points. The Golden Gophers got no closer the rest of the way.

Penn State now travels to No. 22 Purdue on Thursday with a chance to avenge its only loss of the past seven weeks. The Boilermakers beat the Lady Lions 84-74 on Jan. 12 at the Bryce Jordan Center.

“I definitely think it was a wake-up call for us,” Edwards said of the Purdue game. “We’ve done a much better job of applying what we do in practice to games and executing what our coach wants us to do, so I would say that’s the change we have made.”