PARK, Pa. - If you are not familiar with college basketball, the game consists
of two, 20 minute halves and can normally be played in around 90 minutes, but
on Wednesday night the Lady Lions nearly needed a nap during their two-hour marathon
against Illinois inside the Bryce Jordan Center.
The game featured 47 fouls, 49 turnovers and 52 free throws, but when the final horn sounded Penn State had outlasted Illinois, 95-62.
Those three factors will slow down even the fastest moving offense, but it couldn't stop the Lady Lions from scoring 95 points and taking another step towards securing their second straight Big Ten regular season championship.
"I thought we played well in spurts tonight," said Penn State head coach Coquese Washington. "I don't think we did a great job of controlling the ball throughout the game and some of that is attributed to Illinois and the way they play."
The way that Illinois plays can be summed up in one word: physical.
"[Illinois] tries to make the game chaotic and they try to get you playing faster than you want to play," said Washington. "There were times that we could have played with some more composure, but we expected some of that."
The physicality was apparent just two minutes into the game when both Mia Nickson and Nikki Greene went to the bench at the same time with bloody noses. Both players would return and it wasn't anything malicious that caused the injury, but Washington was happy with the way that her team did panic and kept playing their style of basketball throughout the game.
After trailing, 7-5, at the first media timeout, Penn State broke the game wide open with a 27-8 run over an eight minute span to grab control. During that spurt, the Lady Lions handed out seven assists and committed just two turnovers, while connecting on six of eight free throw attempts.
"I thought we did a good job of not forcing things too much," said Washington. "I think it took us a few minutes to adjust to the physicality [Illinois] plays with, but once we adjusted I think we were fine. We were able to get our bearings and get things going from there."
Adjust would be an understatement. After starting the game just 2-for-7 from the field, Penn State missed consecutive shots just three times the rest of the way. That type of success on the offensive end was something that the Blue and White knew that they would need to have to beat a quality opponent like Illinois.
"We really made it a point going into this game to make the extra pass," said junior Maggie Lucas. "[Making the extra pass] leads to the more open shots and we were able to get out in transition and get some layups in the first half, so that helped."
That effort was rewarded with 19 assists - their most in a Big Ten game this season - and a 61 percent shooting effort. It was a shooting clinic for the final 35 of the game as the Lady Lions connected on 66 percent of their shots and eventually ended the game with their highest shooting percentage in a game since Feb. 23, 1996 vs. Michigan State.
Such a high shooting percentage is a testament to Penn State's focus on the floor and their ability to play through what Washington described as a herky-jerky game. The extra pass that Lucas eluded to during the postgame press conference was something that kept the Illini off balance and out-of-sync and led to a lot of open looks.
All 10 players scored in the game and nine of them shot above 50 percent from the floor. Lucas (22 pts) and Alex Bentley (20 pts) paced the scoring efforts, while Nickson added 13 points and Ariel Edwards collected 11 points off the bench.
"It was a long game," said Washington. "There were a lot of fouls, a lot of stoppage of play, and sometimes it is hard to get in a rhythm and stay in that rhythm with so many whistles...but overall I thought we did a good job of keeping our composure."
That composure will continue to be tested as the season wares on, starting on Sunday against Michigan at the Bryce Jordan Center.