Penn State’s Maggie Lucas and Minnesota’s Rachel Banham, the top two scorers in the Big Ten, matched each other point-for-point on Sunday.
So what was the difference between the No. 13 Lady Lions and the Golden Gophers?
Lucas had more help from her friends.
A lot more help.
Dara Taylor’s 15 points and 10 assists and Ariel Edwards’ 16 points bolstered 25 from Lucas as the Lady Lions buried the Golden Gophers 83-53 before a crowd of 6,292 at the Bryce Jordan Center. Eight different players scored at least four points for Lady Lions (15-4 overall, 6-1 Big Ten), who held their fourth straight opponent to less than 55 points.
Banham also had 25 points, but she was one of only three Gophers to score in the opening 35 minutes of the game. Minnesota (13-8, 2-5), which entered the game as the No. 2 three-point shooting team in the country, was held to 2 of 10 from long range.
Penn State never trailed in the contest, which was at its most competitive in the early stages as Lucas and Banham put on a display of their talents. Banham made 5 of her first 6 shots and Lucas drilled two 3-pointers and matched Banham with 10 points in the first eight minutes.
But even at that point, Penn State had established a 21-12 lead as Taylor complemented Lucas with six points.
“I think to start off we had some good stops and great outlets that let us get out in transition early,” Lucas said. “As the game went on ... we had great ball movement. Everyone got involved.”
From there, Taylor and Edwards began to frustrate Banham, while Penn State went on to its best-scoring first half of the New Year. Lucas (15), Taylor (10), Edwards (9) and Talia East (6) each had solid scoring halves as Penn State doubled up Minnesota 44-22 at the break.
Banham (14) and Kayla Hirt (8) were the only Gophers to score in the opening 20 minutes. Minnesota was without starting point guard Shayne Mullaney, who missed the game with concussion-like symptoms according to coach Pam Borton.
“We had to change a lot of our offensive sets and put people in different spots,” said Borton, whose squad dressed just nine. “We played a couple players who haven’t played in about a month.”
On top of that, Banham and starting forward Michaella Riche picked two fouls within the first four minutes of the game.
“I thought it really changed the game,” Borton said of the foul trouble. “We had to play differently. We had to stay in a zone, which I thought they were really exposing us in the zone. We didn’t have any choice but to play a zone other than if we wanted Rachel to come sit on the bench. ... We had to change the way we were playing and it gave them a lot of open looks.”
Penn State continued to extend its lead in the second half as Minnesota continued to find balance. Banham and Amanda Zahui B were the only Gophers to score over the first 15 minutes of the half. Zahui B had all of her 16 points in the second half before fouling out with 7:06 remaining.
After the opening minutes, Taylor and Edwards did an excellent job of defending Banham. The Minnesota guard made 5 of her last 19 shots, finishing 10 for 25 from the field. Banham made both of her team’s 3-pointers, one a bank shot from the top of the key.
“She’s a really talented player,” Taylor said of Banham, who came in averaging 22 points per game. “She can score a bunch of different ways. She hits a lot of tough shots so you really have to chase her off of the three-point line and contest all of those difficult shots. She’s still going to hit some, but stay attached. We couldn’t lose her. I think that Ariel did a great job with her length making it hard for her to make shots over her.”
Even with the extra concentration on Banham, the Lady Lions didn’t let other Gophers thrive. Riche, who had 24 points in Minnesota’s 89-81 upset win against Penn State last March, was held to two points Sunday.
“We really stress team defense,” Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said. “Certainly, we were concerned about Banham but they have other good players, too. ... Everybody needed to know where Banham was and be aware of her, but we’ve got to guard everybody.”
The Gophers never got closer than 17 points (59-42) in the second half
Penn State poured it on from there, thanks in a big part to outstanding play from Taylor. The former transfer from Maryland had her first double-double in a Penn State uniform. The senior guided the offense to a season-low eight turnovers and had four steals that were among Minnesota’s 21 turnovers.
“I thought Dara was really in control of the tempo of the game and really had a good handle of our team offensively,” Washington said. “I am not surprised that she got 10 assists, but her control of the game was probably the best we have seen this year. She is growing in that area and really managing the game, managing our team and making sure that things are flowing, especially on the offensive end.
“She was able to do that tonight while still exerting a tremendous amount of energy guarding the leading scorer in the conference. For her to be that effective on both ends of the floor, it’s just a testament of how talented a player she is.”
Lucas, whose bobblehead was a hot giveaway, went 7 for 15 from the field, including 4 for 8 from 3-point range. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year downplayed any duel with Banham, a first team all-conference pick.
“My focus in this game was nothing about a matchup between me and her,” Lucas said of Banham. “I think what played into our favor was that we are a great team when we play well together. When everyone gets involved and is getting looks, that’s when we are the most successful.”
Penn State shot 44 percent as a team (31 for 70), its best percentage over the last five games.
“I thought we did a really good job of making the extra pass and really trying to find the open person,” Washington said. “We had a lot of patience on offense and we were content to pass up a good shot for a great shot. We were aggressive and assertive in attacking the paint, even against their zone. When we are aggressive and assertive offensively, we usually get pretty good results.”
Minnesota had the second-best shooting percentage (42.3) against the Lady Lions this season, but netted just 53 points thanks to the 21 turnovers. Penn State also held a 42-31 rebounding edge with five players getting at least five boards.
The Lady Lions, in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten, face the only league team to beat them when they travel to Purdue (14-5, 4-3) at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Boilermakers won 84-74 earlier this season.