Maggie Lucas scored 22 points, backcourt mate Alex Bentley added 20 and No. 7 Penn State overwhelmed Illinois in transition in a 95-62 win Wednesday night, moving a step closer to a second straight Big Ten regular-season title.
The Lady Lions (22-3, 12-1) built a 21-point lead by halftime after shooting 58 percent in the first half. Penn State had a two-game lead on second-place Nebraska entering Wednesday night, with three games left on the Lady Lions' schedule after the win over the Illini.
Adrienne GodBold had 17 points for foul-plagued Illinois (15-10, 8-5). The Lady Lions outraced the Illini to the bucket on the break, 18-6.
Penn State didn't let up down the stretch and led by as much as 27 early in the second half. Even 19 second-half turnovers couldn't derail Penn State after shooting 61 percent for the night — the first time the team eclipsed that mark since 1996.
The Lady Lions went on a 49-26 run over the final 15 minutes of the first half to seize control.
A satisfied Penn State coach Coquese Washington took time to lean back on the scorer's table and sip from a bottle of water before her team jogged back to the locker room with a 54-33 halftime lead.
Relentless Penn State attacked from all over the court on both ends of the floor. Lucas and Bentley led the charge from the backcourt, while third guard Dara Taylor (nine points, five steals, six turnovers,) harassed opponents with her speed and quick baseline moves.
The balanced attack featured 13 points and seven rebounds from forward Mia Nickson and 11 points from guard/forward Ariel Edwards. The Lady Lions aggressively attacked the basket while also getting 10 blocks, including four from Tori Waldner and three from freshman Candice Agee.
Illinois coach Matt Bollant managed to get his team settled in the second half, but the Illini could get no closer than 19 with 7:42 left to play.
Karisma Penn finished with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting and five rebounds, but spent chunks of the game on the bench with foul trouble. Ivory Crawford had 10 points before also fouling out with 9:17 left.
Illinois, which was off to its best start in conference play since 1999-00, stumbled in a chance for a season-defining win on the road. The Illini haven't won in Happy Valley since 1998.
A two-minute stretch midway through the first half exemplified Illinois' frustrating night. GodBold appeared to have a clear path to the basket before Agee swatted the ball away from behind. Lucas corralled the rebound before connecting on a textbook cross-court pass in transition to Bentley for a layup with 9:45 left in the half.
About 30 seconds later, Agee missed a foul shot but Penn State got the rebound and whipped the ball around the floor to counter the Illini's overplaying defense. Left open on the wing, Lucas called the ball and hit a 3 before an Illinois player jumped in front of her for a 13-point lead.
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