Penn State moved a bit closer to its third consecutive Big Ten regular-season title Thursday night, downing Northwestern, 82-73, at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The ninth-ranked Lady Lions had four players in doubles, led by Maggie Lucas with 26 points. Ariel Edwards added 15, Tori Waldner a career-high 14 and Dara Taylor 11.
Lucas hit a 3-pointer early in the second half, then converted a free throw after being fouled by Ashley Deary, and her four-point play gave Penn State a 47-36 lead. The Wildcats kept fighting back, trimming that lead to five points with 52 seconds left, but they couldn't overcome Penn State's Lucas-led scoring barrage.
"I think I just found a couple of holes when they were in their zone," the senior guard said. "My teammates put me in catch-and-shoot opportunities, which I don't get that often anymore."
The Lady Lions improved to 21-5 overall and 12-2 in the Big Ten, setting up a nationally televised (ESPN2) showdown with Nebraska on Monday night in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers defeated Ohio State, 67-59, Thursday and sit in second place in the conference standings at 10-3. Michigan State was 9-3 in the conference heading into a late game Thursday against Wisconsin.
"It's two of the best players in the conference matching up against each other on national TV in Maggie Lucas and [Nebraska forward] Jordan Hooper. They both have really good supporting casts," Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. "It's probably going to be a full house in Lincoln, and I think our kids will respond really well. As usual in this conference, I think it's going to be an exciting game, a close game, and we're just thrilled to be in position to play this type of game."
Northwestern's upset hopes were dealt a severe blow when Nia Coffey fouled out with 12 minutes, 22 seconds to play. Coffey, a freshman forward who was eighth in the Big Ten with an average of 15.8 points per game, picked up her fourth and fifth fouls within 32 seconds of each other.
She finished with 14 points in only 20 minutes for the Wildcats, who fell to 14-12 and 4-9 in the conference. Her departure with more than 12 minutes to play, Lucas said, "was huge. She's an unbelievable player."
Lucas, meanwhile played almost the entire game, going 7 for 16 from the floor and 5 of 8 from 3-point range. She's got a lot of admirers in the Big Ten, and Northwestern coach Joe McKeown is one of them.
"I'm sure she's gonna go down as one of the great players here," he said. "It'll be good when she graduates."