Even an Illinois assistant coach gave the Lady Lions free throws last night.
The Penn State women’s basketball team built much of its 95-62 victory over Illinois last night at Bryce Jordan Center on the ensuing foul shots from Illinois’ 26 total fouls. The Fighting Illini were also assessed two technical fouls, one on a member of the coaching staff for giving lip to the ref and another on sophomore forward Nia Oden for unwarranted physicality after the play was dead.
Redshirt senior forward Mia Nickson went to the line most, converting six of seven free throws. She threw her body around the paint all evening to earn her eight points and five boards. At one point, she even had to sub out so the medical staff could stop a nose bleed.
“She likes to hit people,” coach Coquese Washington said of Nickson’s playing style. “That’s what Mia likes to do. She likes to hit people and she likes being hit. She was a football player in her previous life, or a hockey player, one of the two. But she doesn’t mind contact.”
Center Nikki Greene also fell — literally — victim to some rough play on Illinois’ part. At 6-foot-4, she’s no stranger to rocking the BJC hardwood every time she takes a hit or dives for the basketball. Last night, Oden shoved her to the floor after the whistle had blown.
Oden and Illinois senior forward Karisma Penn had three fouls within the first 10 minutes of game time. By halftime, the Fighting Illini had 16 team fouls. Sophomore guard Ivory Crawford fouled out with more than nine minutes to play in the second half. Penn fouled out with more than five. At final buzzer, three other Illinois players had four fouls.
“They played really, really hard and probably one of the toughest teams in the Big Ten physical-wise,” Nickson said.
The Lions did knock around their own share of Illini, but Penn State’s own 21 fouls were more evenly distributed amongst the team. Only one Lion, Talia East, had as many as four fouls, and she played the least amount of minutes.
Penn State also managed a couple of rejection runs where the Illini labored to get a shot up in the paint. Freshman center Candice Agee swatted three away, two of which came in quick succession during the first half. Sophomore center Tori Waldner went on a blocking spree as the clock wound down, finishing with four.
“Those are momentum-changing plays,” Washington said. “[Tori] was like a one-man defense at the end of the game.”
The Lions’ 10 blocks are the most they’ve had since Jan. 28, 2010, when they stuffed Purdue 11 times.
Despite the close defensive encounters between both teams, Penn State came aways shooting 61 percent from the field. They may have brushed aside Illinois’ blows in the process, but the Illini were the ones who came away most battered.
“They came out and punched us in the mouth and we didn’t really respond,” Illinois coach Matt Bollant said. “And they kept punching us, and they played great throughout.”
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