February 4, 2011

Lady Lions blast Michigan, now face do-or-die stretch against Sparty and the Hawks

Michigan guard Veronica Hicks dribbles
around Penn State guard Zhaque Gray.
(Photo: Angela J. Cesere/AnnArbor.com)
Penn State (19-5, 8-2) absolutely dominated a once-hot Michigan team, 81-63 in the Crisler Arena last night. Maggie Lucas led five Lady Lions in double figures with 23 points, four rebounds and a steal. Alex Bentley tallied 11 points, with three rebounds and four assists, while Zhaque Gray chipped in 11 points and four assists. The 19 wins are the most by a Penn State squad since the 2004-05 team had 19 wins. The Lady Lions also picked up their eighth Big Ten win of the year, which equals their total from last season.

The win puts Penn State, for the time being, in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings. After last night's round of Big Ten games--No. 11 Michigan State beat Wisconsin in overtime, and Purdue crushed No. 20 Iowa--the Lady Lions are a half-game ahead of the Spartans (19-3, 7-2), and a full game ahead of Wisconsin (12-10, 7-3). The Badgers had been tied with Penn State atop the standings coming into last night.

Michigan (13-9, 6-4) had won four of five coming into the Penn State game, including wins over Wisconsin, Northwestern, Purdue and Ohio State. But a loss earlier this week to Minnesota sort of killed the run before the Lady Lions came to town. What the Wolverines did prove over the last two weeks, however, was that three of Penn State's final six opponents--NW, PU, OSU--are still very vulnerable.

You would think Iowa is wounded right now. But with Penn State having to travel to Iowa City, the game is not really any easier than it was before.

Should the Lady Lions do what they have to, beat Iowa, and return home to the BJC for what is likely to determine the regular season Big Ten title, the Feb. 10 game against Michigan State will shape up to be the biggest regular season game in head coach Coquese Washington's four seasons at Penn State.

I was tempted to discuss in this post the very real potential for Penn State to win the Big Ten championship not only this year, but also the very real likelihood that the Lady Lions will start 2011-2012 as the favorite to win the conference. But first I want to see how this team, with it's lone senior, handles success and the pressure to continue that success in the final leg of the regular season.

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