UNIVERSITY PARK — The often loquacious Alex Bentley didn’t need many words to describe teammate Nikki Greene’s play against Wisconsin on Thursday.
Three would suffice.
“She’s a beast,” Bentley said of the Penn State center
Greene dominated the action, scoring a season-high 23 points and grabbing 14 rebounds as the No. 8 Lady Lions buried Wisconsin 84-40 before 3,848 at the Bryce Jordan Center. Greene’s big night helped Penn State (14-2 overall, 4-0 Big Ten) pile up a whopping 52-10 points in the paint edge as the Lady Lions cruised to their eighth straight victory.
Greene, who all too often in her career has been relegated to the bench with foul trouble (especially in first halves), racked up 27 minutes Thursday and made the most of the playing time. She entered the contest avergaing just 19.6 minutes, the lowest total among Penn State starters.
“Twenty seven? Oh my goodness that might be a career high,” chuckled Penn State coach Coquese Washington, who has complained vociferously on how fouls are called against her 6-foot-4 center. “Nikki is an incredibly talented player. When she’s on the floor and she can play, she can put up big numbers for us. ... When she can play big minutes for us, she’s capable of putting up big numbers every night. That opens up things for other people.”
With center Cassie Rochel ailing from a stomach problem, the banged-up Badgers (8-10, 0-5) had no player to match Greene, who went 9 for 16 from the floor on mostly power moves around the basket. Greene also grabbed seven offensive boards as she helped Penn State amass a 15-0 edge in second-chance points.
“She’s a big body in there,” Wisconsin coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “She’s a big girl and she obviously used her God-given stature to make it hard on us. ... Our kid (Rochel) is slight and Nikki Greene has some meat on her. She did a nice job of finishing with contact.”
“They were guarding Maggie (Lucas) and Alex pretty tough, so I just tried to take advantage of what they were giving us on defense,” said Greene, who was two points shy of her career high. “I just scored.”
Scoring would be a problem for the Badgers, who were averaging less than 47 points in seven road games coming into the contest. They shot just 26 percent from the floor (14 of 53) against a harassing Penn State defense that forced 24 turnovers, including 17 in the first half.
Penn State scored the game’s first 11 points and Wisconsin was never really in it from there. Bentley and Lucas each had three steals as Penn State had 10 in the half.
“Our guards kind of got rattled in the beginning and then settled down,” Kelsey said. “Youth and inexperience doesn’t bode well when you’re playing seniors and juniors that know how to lull you into seeing something maybe open and shutting down or making you spin and turn and swiping from behind. They did a nice job of rattling us in the beginning.”
Thanks to 12 points from Greene and 11 from Bentley, Penn State continued to extend the lead. Gizelle Studevent’s steal and layup just before the buzzer gave Penn State a 46-21 lead at the break.
The Badgers scored the first basket of the second half, but Penn State rattled off the next nine points to push the margin to 32. The Lady Lions maintained and extended the margin as they looked inside for points. Penn State also dominated the boards with a 55-31 edge.
“Actually in the first half, Co was really getting on us because the guards weren’t really playing smart offensively,” said Bentley, who finished with 14 points. “Our posts could have dominated the entire game, but we unfortunately weren’t looking in in the first half. We definitely focused on it in the second half and you saw Nikki go off. (Talia East) was getting rebounds and Mia (Nickson) was getting putbacks. They were just big down there.”
Kelsey said the Badgers were focused on stopping Lucas, who finished nine point below her average with 11 points, but Penn State’s depth made the difference. All nine Lady Lions that played scored at least one basket.
“We do try to key in and stop the main player, but again when you have a team full of talented players it’s hard because we can’t match up quite with what they have and what they’re doing,” Kelsey said.
Greene capped a big night by banking in a shot at the buzzer. Bentley had six steals, five assists and just one turnover. Dara Taylor added eight points, six assists and four steals, while Nickson had eight points and nine rebounds.
Morgan Paige led the Badgers with 14 points.
Penn State returns to action Monday in a showdown for the conference lead at No. 25 Michigan (15-2, 4-0).