NCAA BASKETBALL: Penn State women get physical with Mustangs
BATON ROUGE, La. — Maggie Lucas launched a rainbow 3-pointer as time expired in the first half, then let out a yell and pumped her right fist as the shot went through to give Penn State its first double-digit lead against NCAA tournament newcomer Cal Poly.
If that shot wasn’t enough to send third-seeded Penn State off and running, a stern halftime lecture by coach Coquese Washington was.
Lucas finished with 19 points, Alex Bentley added 18 and third-seeded Penn State overwhelmed Cal Poly in the second half for 85-55 victory in a first-round game Sunday night.
A grinning Washington said the emotional lift of Lucas’ clock-beating 3 at the half was “short-lived after we walked into the locker room.”
“We talked about the other 19:55 of the half,” Washington said. “We did a better job defensively in the second half in containing the ball and contesting shots and making them take tough shots. It took us a few minutes to adjust to their little guards’ shiftiness and their speed. Once we adjusted and did a better job of keeping them in front of us, things seemed to work out better for us.”
While the dynamic Lucas scored from all over the court, Penn State (26-5) also used its size advantage to assert itself inside on both ends.
The 6-foot-2 Mia Nickson, 6-3 Talia East and 6-4 Nikki Greene combined for 33 rebounds, and the Lions outrebounded Cal Poly 52-40 overall.
Penn State outscored the Mustangs 44-28 in the paint.
“They’re just some big mommas, and the big mommas were throwing us around like rag dolls,” Cal Poly coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “It seemed like a little unfair of a fight, to be honest.”
Nickson finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds, Greene scored 11 points and East grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots for Penn State, which plays Tuesday against LSU, a 75-71 winner over Green Bay.
“We did a great job (inside) and kind of took the game over, especially on defense,” Nickson said. “It kind of changed the momentum.”
Molly Schlemer led Cal Poly (21-11), the Big West champs and 14th seed in the Spokane Region, with 24 points, but after scoring 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting in the first 10 minutes, she had to work harder for her shots and missed seven of her last 13.
“It’s completely different from our conference because I’m the biggest in our conference by a long shot,” Schlemer said. “They pushed us around — strong bodies. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.”
Jonae Ervin added 10 points and was the only other player to score in double digits for Cal Poly, which was held to 27.9 percent shooting (19-for-68).
Penn State led by 10 at halftime and began to blow the game open with a 11-0 run in the second half that made it 59-36 on Lucas’ steal and fast-break layup with less than 12 minutes to go. The lead grew to 30 on Bentley’s layup with 5:39 to go and the result was never in doubt after that.
“We were able to get in our rhythm, and it comes from our defense,” Lucas said. “Once we addressed our defense more, that’s when our offensive flow really got going.”
Cal Poly was able to put up resistance early on by working the ball inside to 6-foot-5 Schlemer. She hit five of her first six shots and a pair of free throws to give her 12 of the Mustangs’ first 15 points.
Cal Poly held a 15-12 lead at that point, but Bentley hit jumpers from near the foul line and baseline, initiating a Penn State 15-2 run that gave the Lady Lions the lead for good. The surge included a backcourt steal by Lucas that she converted into a layup, a pair of layups by Ariel Edwards, Nickson’s short turnaround in the lane and a difficult running floater in traffic by Lucas that made it 27-17.
The run occurred while Schlemer was on the bench, but when she returned, she found her shots tougher to get and did not score the rest of the half. Despite shooting only 23.5 percent (8-for-34) in the opening 20 minutes, Cal Poly was able to keep its deficit in single digits most of the half until Lucas, the Big Ten player of the year, unleashed her 3 at the horn that made it 38-28, elevating the arc on her shot to get it over Schlemer.
“She’s just an amazing shooter,” Schlemer said. “That was an incredible shot to shoot it over me because I’m kind of tall.”