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January 26, 2014

Lady Lions tame Gophers in rout

Rachel Banham is not going to be denied. One way or another, Minnesota's junior guard - the Big Ten's leading scorer this season - is going to get her points.

On Sunday afternoon, Banham was in foul trouble almost from the moment she got off the bus at the Bryce Jordan Center, but she still played 40 minutes and scored 25 points for the Gophers.

But the 13th-ranked Lady Lions weren't going to be denied, either. They've been playing terrific defense lately, and while Banham topped her average of 22.6 points per game, Penn State put the clamps on just about everybody else. Other than freshman center Amanda Zahui B., who scored 16 points before fouling out with seven minutes to play, the Gophers lacked the complementary scoring threats they desperately needed, and the 13th-ranked Lady Lions rode their own 25-point outburst - from Maggie Lucas, naturally - to a lopsided 83-53 victory.

"It was the focus of the team to know where [Banham] was - she's that great of a player," Lucas said. "But my focus in this game was not a matchup between me and her. What worked in our favor is that we're a great team and we play well together. When everyone's involved and everyone's getting looks, that's when we're most successful."

Banham went into the game shooting just over 48 percent from 3-point range, tops in the Big Ten and fifth-best in Division I. As a team, the Gophers were shooting a league-best 43 percent. But against Penn State, Banham went 2 of 8 from beyond the arc, and the rest of the team went 0 for 2.

"We needed to guard them. They're a great 3-point shooting team," Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. "You can't give great shooters easy, open looks. So our focus was to be there when they caught the ball and not give them great looks. I thought we did a good job of forcing them off the 3-point line and not giving them open looks."

Lucas hit four 3-pointers for Penn State, which improved to 15-4 overall and stayed atop the Big Ten standings at 6-1. The Lady Lions also got 16 points from Ariel Edwards and 15 points and 10 assists from Dara Taylor.

The Lady Lions had been giving up just over 63 points a game against Big Ten opponents - second-best in the league - and they only enhanced that average with their performance against the Gophers. Banham and Zahui may have scored in doubles, but the six other Gophers players who saw action combined for only 12 points.

"We really stress team defense," Washington said. "Certainly, we were concerned about Banham, but their other players are pretty good, too. Sari Noga is an outstanding 3-point shooter, and we didn't want to let her get going. We knew that Zahui is really good in the paint, so we knew we had to do a good job on her. It wasn't simply that we had to shut down Banham. We needed to play great team defense. Everybody needed to know where Banham was and be aware of her, but we needed to guard everybody. I thought our defensive intensity was really good in the first half."

Banham picked up her second foul just over two minutes into the game while trying to block a Lucas layup. She didn't come out, though, and for a while she kept the Gophers from falling hopelessly behind, scoring 14 of their first 20 points.

But fall behind they did. Buoyed by 15 points from Lucas, the Lady Lions led by 22 at the break, 44-22. Minnesota (13-8, 2-5) never got closer than 17 points in the second half.

Next up for the Lady Lions: an opportunity to avenge their only Big Ten defeat. They will face Purdue on Thursday in West Lafayette in a rematch of a Jan. 12 game at the BJC that the Boilermakers won handily, 84-74.

"They're a great team, and [Mackey Arena] is a tough environment to play in," Lucas said. "But like we've been saying, we've just got to focus on what our game plan is. When we stick to our game plan, we're very successful."


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