Lady Lions clinch sole ownership of Big Ten title in Pink Zone win

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With 13,849 fans, including a record 505 survivors, filling the Bryce Jordan Center, the No. 11/15 Penn State Lady Lions (23-5, 13-3) defeated Minnesota (14-16, 6-10), 74-51, Sunday afternoon in the Sixth Annual WBCA Pink Zone game. The Lady Lions clinch the Big Ten regular-season championship outright for the fourth time in school history and sixth regular-season crown overall. The 13,849 fans in attendance account for the fourth-largest crowd in school history and the largest to witness a Pink Zone game. The preliminary fundraising total for this year’s Pink Zone is $159,795.93, which does not include donations from single-game ticket sales, t-shirt sales or the CharityBuzz.com online auction.

Penn State’s 13 conference wins are the most wins since the 2004-05 season as they enter the 2012 Big Ten Tournament as the top seed. The Lady Lions will face the winner of the No. 8 Minnesota vs. No. 9 Wisconsin game at 6 p.m. Friday in Indianapolis.

Sophomore Maggie Lucas (Narberth, Pa.) led the Lady Lions with 24 points, a career-high eight assists and a pair of steals. Lucas reached the 20-point plateau for the 15th time this season. Senior Zhaque Gray (Chicago, Ill.) closed out her time in the BJC with an impressive afternoon that featured 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting and three rebounds. Junior Nikki Greene (Diboll, Texas) posted 12 points via a 6-for-7 day from the floor and four rebounds, while junior Mia Nickson (Ashburn, Va.) led the Lady Lions with eight rebounds to go with seven points.

The Lady Lions wasted no time taking control of the game, jumping out to a 7-4 lead. A layup by Lucas sparked an 11-3 run for an 18-7 advantage with just under 13 minutes left in the first half. Lucas had seven points during the run, while freshman Tori Waldner (Milton, Ga.) and Greene had two points each.

A layup by Micaella Riche cut off the early run, but it didn’t faze the Lady Lions. Penn State embarked on a 17-2 run giving the Lady Lions an impressive 35-11 advantage with 4:30 left. The run lasted nearly six minutes with five players contributing with Lucas recording six points and Gray tallying five. Junior Alex Bentley (Indianapolis, Ind.) fouled Minnesota’s Kiara Buford, who hit two at the line, to end the run. The Gophers went on two score off back-to-back layups, but Penn State was still firmly in control with a 35-17 lead.

With a little more than a minute remaining in the half, Lucas was fouled and converted two free throws to move the Lady Lions ahead by 20 (37-17) before Bentley closed out the half with a jumper for a 39-17 lead heading into halftime.

The Lady Lions returned after halftime to score the first seven points to up their lead to 29 (46-17). The Gophers chipped away at Penn State’s lead and closed within 27, but a jumper from Gray and two free throws from junior Gizelle Studevent (La Jolla, Calif.) had the Lions with a 30-point lead (50-20) at the 14:35 mark.

Minnesota scored the next five points to close the gap to 25. However, a Lucas trey and a trip to the foul line pushed the Lions ahead by 30 (55-25). The Gophers kept fighting and hit their next two baskets and a free throw to bring the Lady Lion lead down to 25 (55-30) with just under 11 minutes left. Gray nailed a three-pointer to prevent a Minnesota run, but the Gophers connected on one free throw attempt.

Kionna Kellogg went on to foul Lucas, who hit two at the line, before Nickson was fouled and made the first of two free throws to push the Lady Lions ahead by 30 (61-31). After a fastbreak layup by Buford, Penn State clicked off a 5-0 run, including a three from Gray, to put the Lions ahead, 66-33, with 6:28 to play in the game.

The Gophers mounted an 8-2 run to bring Penn State’s lead down to 27 (68-41), with less than four minutes left. Lucas hit a layup, but Kellogg fired back with one of her own. Gray hit a jumper to make it 72-43 with 2:52 to play. Minnesota scored on two straight layups to narrow the gap to 25 (72-47), but with 1:49 left in the game Penn State’s lead was too great.

Bentley fouled Leah Cotton who sank both free throw attempts bringing the Gophers within 23, 72-49. Greene hit the final basket for the Lady Lions with 18 second remaining and Minnesota’s Rachel Banham closed out the game with a jumper at the six-second mark to close out the scoring for the game.

GAME NOTES: With the win, the Lady Lions clinch their first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 2004 … It is the fourth outright title for the Lions and sixth overall … Penn State will be the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament (March 1-4) in Indianapolis … With 13,849 fans in attendance, today’s crowd was the fourth largest in Lady Lion history … There were a record 505 registered survivors that participated in this year’s event … This is the Lady Lions’ fourth straight win over Minnesota … Sophomore guard Maggie Lucas posted her 15th 20-point game of the season with 24 tallies … Lucas also dished out a career-high eight assists … Additionally, Lucas moved into 30th place on Penn State’s career scoring list with 1,093 points, passing Brianne O’Rourke (1,084) … Lucas jumped into 16th place on Penn State’s single-season scoring chart (541 pts.) … Junior Nikki Greene moved into 15th place on Penn State’s career rebounding list with 693 boards, passing Julia Trogele (690) … With a 7-0 record, the Lady Lions post their first undefeated month since the 2003-04 season when that squad was 9-0 in January … Junior guard Alex Bentley became the 13th player in school history to collect 200 career steals with a trio of thefts today.

The Lady Lions head to Indianapolis for the 2012 Big Ten Tournament. Penn State is the No. 1 seed and will face the winner of the No. 8 vs.No. 9 game at 6 p.m. Friday. The Lady Lions are the top seed for the first time since 2004. Penn State is 23-15 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament with tourney championships in 1995 and 1996.

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