If Penn State is going to clinch the Big Ten women’s basketball title outright, the Lady Lions are going to have to beat the second-place team in a Sunday showdown.
The No. 7 Lady Lions had no answer to hot-shooting Minnesota on Thursday, suffering an 89-81 loss in a foul-plagued marathon at Williams Arena that featured five video reviews lasting more than 15 minutes.
Penn State (23-4, 13-2) now must win at No. 20 Nebraska (22-6, 12-3) to clinch sole possession of the Big Ten title. The Cornhuskers survived an upset bid by edging Wisconsin 55-53.
The Lady Lions’ defense had no answer for the Golden Gophers (17-12, 6-9) who shot a blistering 67 percent (28 of 42) for the game. Micaella Riche, who missed much of Minnesota;s 64-59 loss at the Bryce Jiordan Center with foul troubles, led the Gophers wih 24 points on 9-for-10 shooting from the floor. Rachel Banham (7 for 12) added 23 points and Sari Noga (6 for 6 from 3-point range) netted 19 against the porous Penn State defense.
The contest took over 2 1/2 hours, thanks to several video reviews to determine flagrant fouls and a whopping 49 fouls called against the two teams. Remarkably only two players fouled out in the contest.
“This was the oddest basketball game I have ever been a part of,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said.
Penn State was on its heels from the beginning and the Lady Lions led just twice, both times early in the second half.
Maggie Lucas’s four-point play out of the half gave Penn State its first lead at 40-37, but Banham also nailed 3-pointer and was fouled to put Minnesota back ahead at 41-40. Lucas’ jumper gave Penn State the lead again at 42-41, but Noga nailed a 3-pointer and Banham had a 3-point play in an 8-0 run that gave the Gophers the lead for good.
The whistles were flying in the early part of the half as the officials called seven fouls in the fist 1:36 and 10 by the 3:30 mark of the half. Penn State was in the double-bonus with 12 minutes to go in the half, but did not shoot another free throw for nine minutes.
“We needed to be the aggressor,” Washington said.
Minnesota pushed its lead to 71-58 as Noga (averaging 6.9 points entering the game) drilled her sixth 3-pointer of the game. The Lady Lions were able to get as close as six from there, the final time on Bentley’s 3-pointer with 2:36 left.
But Bentley fouled out just 12 seconds later and Penn State’s hope of a comeback sputtered from there. The Golden Gophers made 7 of 9 free throws from there as they closed out their Senior Day with the big upset.
“We gave them too maay paint touches and too many open touches,” said Washington, who club had not given up more than 74 points in a game this season. “They shot a great a great percentage and usually that’s a great indication that they’re getting too many easy shots in the paint or wide-open shots.”
Lucas led Penn State with 23 points, but went 10 for 24 from the field. She did not score over the final 10 minutes of the game. Bentley added 19 and Greene, the subject of many of the video reviews had 15, all in the second half.
Aside from one tie, the hot-shooting Gophers led the entire first half, pushing the margin as high as nine points.
Minnesota opened the contest making eight of its first nine shots, racing to a 20-13 lead. Penn State scrapped back to within 24-21 thanks to steals and layups from Lucas and Taylor, but Minnesota rebounded. Leah Cotton’s two free throws pushed the Gopher lead to 35-26 with 3:30 left in the half.
From there, the Lady Lions dominated the rest of the half. A steal and layup by Bentley and Lucas’ spin move in transition cut the margin to 37-36 at the break. The Gophers shot 68 percent in the half, but Penn State forced 14 turnovers to stay close.
Penn State continued its misery at Williams Arena. The Lady Lions have lost eight of their last nine in Minneapolis.
Dara Taylor added nine points and five steals. Greene, who spent much of the first half on the bench with foul troubles, had a team-high nine rebounds. Penn State got just seven points from the bench with six coming from Ariel Edwards.
Minnesota won despite committing 23 turnovers. Shayne Mullaney added 10 points, while Banham had seven assists and four steals.
“You can’t make this bigger than what it is,” Washington said. “It was a bad performance, probably the worst performance we’ve had defensively all season. I’m confident we’ll bounce back. We’ve traditionally been a team that when we stumble we right the ship pretty quickly.”
Penn State defeated Nebraska 80-58 earlier this season.