It wasn’t that long ago that Penn State coach Coquese Washington admits her team wouldn’t have won a game like it played against Michigan on Monday night.
She had a pretty good reference point.
“We were here a couple years ago (2010), I believe it was Alex (Bentley’s) freshman year where we lost this game (66-62) at their place,” Washington said. “One of the things that’s good about our team is that we don’t get rattled. We don’t lose our composure.”
Thanks to those improvements, the No. 8 Lady Lions are now the only unbeaten team in Big Ten play. Penn State held Michigan to just one basket over the final seven minutes and used a 12-0 late run to knock off the No. 23 Wolverines 59-49 at the Crisler Center.
Maggie Lucas had 19 points and Alex Bentley added 16 as the Lady Lions (15-2 overall, 5-0 Big Ten) won their ninth straight game and snapped Michigan’s 10-game win streak.
Penn State shot just 39 percent for the game, but held the Wolverines (15-3, 4-1) to 28 percent shooting, including 23 percent (6 for 26) from 3-point range.
“To hold them to 49 points in their gym, our defense allowed us to stay in the game even though we shot the ball poorly,” Washington said.
Thanks to a 15-0 run early in the first half, Penn State held the lead for most of the game, but was up just 47-46 when Lucas headed to the bench with four fouls with 7:03 remaining.
Reserve Gizelle Studevent’s jumper then triggered a 12-0 run. Mia Nickson, who had just one basket to that point, followed with back-to-back post buckets to push the lead to 53-46. Bentley also had two baskets in the run and Lucas added two free throws.
“The pace was more our pace down the stretch,” Washington said. “Our defense generated some offense and we got going.”
Rachel Sheffer finally ended the Penn State run with a 3-point play with 55.6 seconds left, but it was too late for the Wolverines to get back into the game.
Penn State’s defense forced 15 turnovers in addition to the many missed shots.
“They definitely bring the pressure a lot,” Michigan guard Jenny Ryan said. “They have three really quick guards that come in and they just hound you for days. I think that it’s a good learning experience for us.”
Michigan got off to a fast start, taking an 8-2 lead, but all five Penn State starters scored in a 15-0 run that put Penn State back in front. Lucas had 12 points as Penn State led 32-24 at the half.
“We just kind of said, ‘OK. What adjustments to we need to make? We need to give a little bit more effort in certain areas and be a little smarter,’” Washington said. “We did that and were able to get back into the game and take the lead.”
The Wolverines opened the second half with an 11-2 outburst and took their last lead at 35-34 on Kate Thompson’s 3-pointer with 14:40 left. Penn State regained the lead with a 9-2 run.
“We’re developing that toughness that we know that we can crawl back into games,” Washington said. “As long as we play together, play team ball, focus on defense and we play smart on offense, then we can play with anybody in the country and we can beat anybody in our conference,” Washington said. “But, we have to be disciplined to do those things. If we don’t, we can have some long rough spells during games.”
Sheffer had 20 points, but was the only Wolverine in double figures. Thompson, who entered the contest third in the country (49 percent) from 3-point range, was 3 for 14 against the Lady Lions.
Nikki Greene, who played just 18 minutes because of foul trouble, was productive with eight points and 11 rebounds. Bentley, second in the country, added five steals.
Penn State returns to action Thursday with a 6:30 p.m. home clash with Minnesota.