Lucas, PSU stay atop Big Ten standings

UNIVERSITY PARK Maggie Lucas scored 25 points, including six during a game-closing 20-9 run, and the No. 11 Penn State women’s basketball team stayed on top of the Big Ten standings with a 78-68 victory over Wisconsin on Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Ariel Edwards added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Lions (20-5, 11-2 Big Ten), who have a one-game lead in the loss column over Michigan State and Nebraska. Penn State, which has won at least 20 games for the fourth straight season, is seeking its third consecutive outright Big Ten championship.

Michala Johnson scored 19 points for upset-minded Wisconsin (10-15, 3-10), which held a 59-58 lead with 4 minutes, 31 seconds remaining.

Talia East hit a jump shot 9 seconds later that gave Penn State the lead for good and started its closing run. After a turnover by Wisconsin’s Morgan Paige, Lucas made two free throws to make it a three-point game.

A free throw from Dara Taylor and back-to-back lay-ups from East and Edwards over the next minute put Penn State up 67-59 with 3:05 left and Wisconsin got no closer than five points the rest of the way.

“It was just crunch time at the end,” Lucas said. “We had to get a few stops, string them together and just try to extend the lead. We know that any team in the Big Ten is capable of beating anybody, so we just thought that we had to get a few stops. I thought we played great team defense at the end, which led to that.”

Penn State, which went 18-for-21 from the free-throw line, hit five of six over the final 90 seconds to close out the victory. Lucas was a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line and increased her NCAA-leading free-throw percentage to 96.7 percent (148-for-153).

Penn State hosted its eighth annual Pink Zone game to raise money for breast cancer causes. The team honored nearly 700 breast cancer survivors at halftime and Sunday’s crowd of 12,585 was the sixth-largest to see a women’s basketball game at the Bryce Jordan Center.

“So many people partner with us and give of their time to make this day a special celebration for the survivors,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “It has always been special. Every year, we have this opportunity to celebrate people who are battling breast cancer and the courage, the fight and determination that it takes to do that day-in and day-out.”

The visiting Badgers raced out to an 11-2 lead and were still ahead 16-12 after Paige’s lay-up with 11:45 left in the first half.

Lucas scored seven consecutive points over the next three minutes and gave Penn State its first lead of the game. The Lady Lions built their advantage to as many as 12 points before taking a 40-34 lead into halftime.

Tori Waldner, who finished with 10 points, put Penn State ahead by 10 points with a basket early in the second half. From there, Wisconsin slowly crept its way back into the game.

The Badgers outscored the Lady Lions 22-12 over the next 11 minutes and tied the game at 56-56 when Nicole Bauman hit a 3-pointer with 8:03 left.

“It was a struggle to develop a rhythm on either end of the floor,” Washington said. “Fortunately, we finally found it in the last five minutes. Our rhythm defensively really helped us. We got some big stops down the stretch and that provided us the confidence that we needed to go down on the other end.”

The Lady Lions, who play host to Northwestern at 7 p.m. Thursday, will win the outright Big Ten title with wins in their final three regular-season games.

WISCONSIN (10-15): Wurtz 6-14 3-5 16, Mi. Johnson 8-14 3-5 19, Gulczynski 1-4 0-0 2, Bauman 6-10 0-0 17, Paige 3-10 2-2 8, Whyte 0-2 0-0 0, Cichy 0-1 0-0 0, Ma. Johnson 1-2 4-4 6, Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-57 12-16 68.

PENN ST. (20-5): Taylor 4-11 1-2 10, East 4-6 0-0 8, Edwards 5-13 6-6 16, Lucas 8-17 8-8 25, Waldner 5-13 0-0 10, Agee 0-0 0-0 0, Harris 0-0 0-0 0, Mitchell 2-3 3-5 7, Whitted 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 29-65 18-21 78.

Halftime-Penn St. 40-34. 3-Point Goals-Wisconsin 6-19 (Bauman 5-8, Wurtz 1-6, Whyte 0-1, Gulczynski 0-1, Paige 0-3), Penn St. 2-5 (Taylor 1-2, Lucas 1-3). Fouled Out-Paige. Rebounds-Wisconsin 37 (Mi. Johnson, Wurtz 8), Penn St. 36 (Edwards 10). Assists-Wisconsin 13 (Paige 7), Penn St. 10 (Lucas 5). Total Fouls-Wisconsin 18, Penn St. 19. A-12,585.