- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 24, 2013
Penn State coach Coquese Washington wanted her five seniors to remember their last home game at the Bryce Jordan Center, so she started seldom-used senior forward Marisa Wolfe Sunday in place of her usual starter, junior guard Maggie Lucas.
Unlike the ceremonious start of Wolfe, which only lasted 31 seconds, Lucas played for 38 minutes and made her presence known as No. 9 Penn State (13-1 Big Ten, 23-3 overall) beat the Michigan women’s basketball team, 68-57, to clinch a share of the Big Ten title.
Playing in front of more than 14,000 fans dressed in pink for the Lady Lions’ annual game for breast cancer awareness, the Wolverines (8-6, 19-8) took the floor hoping to avenge a 59-49 loss in January that snapped its program-best 10-game winning streak.
After getting off to a 2-1 lead, it was all downhill from there for Michigan as Penn State went on a 20-2 run to take a 21-4 lead.
“I think anytime you start a game the way we started, it’s hard to come back against a top team in the country,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I believe they are a top team. They have incredible balance (and) incredible depth. It’s hard to stop one kid because another one will make a play.”
The scoring burst from the Lady Lions was highlighted by a steal and pull-up 3-pointer from Lucas at the 12:14 mark in the first half to push the lead to double digits. Lucas’ 15 first-half points led Penn State to shoot 45.4 percent from the field and 5-for-12 from downtown, including three from Lucas.
While Lucas’ spark off the bench contributed to Penn State’s dominance, it was the putrid shooting from beyond the arc and from the field in general that doomed the Wolverines. They shot 28.6 percent from the field in the first half, in addition to shooting just 2-for-11 from behind the arc.
“Golly, if you could figure it out, help me,” Barnes Arico said regarding Michigan’s slow start. “What do you do as a coach? You just sit there and go ‘holy cow’ because there was pressure to get the ball up the floor but I thought our looks were pretty good looks.”
Michigan scored its fourth point at the 15:28 mark, and its next basket didn’t come until with 8:25 left in the first stanza on a 3-pointer from senior forward Kate Thompson – the team’s first made 3-pointer in nine attempts. It was also Thompson’s first made shot in seven tries.
“Once you start missing like that, your kids get tighter and tighter and tighter and tighter,” Barnes Arico said. “And tonight, unlike the other night, we were able to play through it and get out of it, but I could not figure out why we weren’t making those baskets early.”
Despite two early fouls for Thompson and senior guard Jenny Ryan, Barnes Arico stayed with the two seniors because they were the Wolverines’ only chance to chip away at the lead. Thompson delivered, leading Michigan with 13 points at halftime, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to make the score 40-26 as the teams headed to their locker rooms.
“(Coach) just told us to calm down and relax,” Thompson said. “They came out of the gate really strong so we had to come back with our own run to finish off the half and we cut it to 14. So we put ourselves not in a great position at halftime but not a horrible one either.”
Though the risky move to keep her two foul-ridden seniors in the game paid off — the duo didn’t pick up another first-half foul — Penn State’s lead never fell below 12 in the half.
In the second half, Thompson finally did pick up her third foul less than two minutes in, but as in the first half, Barnes Arico stuck with her. Once again, it paid off.
Thompson nailed her first two 3-pointers to cut the lead to nine, while senior forward Nya Jordan converted an and-1 to trim the lead to six – the closest the Wolverines had been since the score was 10-4.
Michigan would make it even closer after a 3-pointer by senior forward Rachel Sheffer cut the once 19-point lead to just four. She would finish with 10 points and six rebounds.
It was Jordan and Thompson who led the way for the Wolverines, scoring 16 of their first 19-second half points. Thompson would finish with a career-high 25 points and six rebounds while Jordan posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“What really helped us in the second half was that we started making shots,” Thompson said. “Rachel made some big shots for us (and) Nya got to the basket.”
But after more than four minutes of silence from the Lady Lions on the offensive end, they recovered, scoring the next five points to push the lead back to nine.
From that point on, Penn State’s forwards took over, attacking the rim and getting short-distance shots at their leisure as the Lady Lions pulled away.
While Lucas got the attention for 21 points off the bench, forward Ariel Edwards also had 11 points off the pine to help the Lady Lions pull away late. Senior forwards Alex Bentley and Mia Nickson each had 11 as well.
“I thought we were able to cut it but never get over the bump partially due to their pressure and playing here,” Barnes Arico said. “You can’t come out of the gates like that and expect to beat a top-10 team.
“They got a couple good defensive stops and made some plays and we just didn’t make the plays.”