Correction appended: Feb. 25, 2013.
As the confetti fell to end the No. 7 Lady Lions’ last home game of the season, the five seniors hoisted the Big Ten Championship trophy as the win yesterday clinched at least a share of the conference title.
The seniors are credited by coach Coquese Washington for changing the program, changing the expectations and changing the culture. Washington said they are the people who changed the way people think about Lady Lion basketball across the country and that clinching the Big Ten title on senior day has fulfilled their goals, visions and dreams as athletes.
Penn State (23-3, 13-1 Big Ten) has repeated as Big Ten champions after defeating Michigan (19-8, 8-6 Big Ten), 68-57, on Sunday for the team’s 20th straight home victory and an undefeated record at home in 2013. It was not only senior day, but also the seventh annual Pink Zone game where the proceeds of ticket sales support various breast cancer causes.
The Lions have two away games remaining in the regular season and a single, unchallenged win will give them sole possession of the conference title. If the Lions lose to Minnesota on Thursday and Nebraska wins its next two games, the Lions and the Cornhuskers will share the trophy.
However, Penn State has clinched the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament regardless of the Minnesota game’s outcome because they have more wins over the top teams in the conference.
Junior Maggie Lucas dropped 21 points in her team’s effort to repeat as conference champions. In graduate student Mia Nickson and senior Alex Bentley’s last game at the Bryce Jordan Center, they added 11 points each to close out their career at home. Bentley also had four steals on the night, which puts her third on the Lady Lions all-time steal list.
“It means a lot. We also went undefeated at home and it's always nice to protect our home court,” Lucas said.
The Lions would handle the Wolverines easily in the first half, jumping to a halftime lead of 40-26, but Michigan would return hot in the second half as the 14 point lead was narrowed to four with 11 minutes to play. Junior guard Ariel Edwards ended five minutes of scoreless play for Penn State when she dropped a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock.
“When we play in the BJC, we have an added advantage. We have great fans, and they are going to give us great energy,” Washington said. “You see, these girls, they love to be theatrical. It's great. They want to win every game. We are pleased we have come in this season night in and night out and put our best effort in and be one with our fans and be ‘one team.’ This year you leave a Lady Lion game, you leave with a smile on your face.”
The crowd of more than 14,000 in the Bryce Jordan Center was the fourth highest in program history and nearly doubled the second largest crowd this season.
Coaches and athletes of various sports teams were on hand, including football coach Bill O’Brien, men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers and player Tim Frazier.
“It is just a tremendous honor to be here and witness this and help Coquese just to a small part in helping put an end to breast cancer. You know, it hits close to home with me, my mom is a two time breast cancer survivor,” O’Brien said. “So anything I can do to help Coquese and women’s basketball with this effort, I am always going to try an do it.”
Penn State athletics has adopted a “One Team” theme with its sports teams this year as the field hockey team, women’s soccer team, football players and men’s basketball teams were in attendance.
“I think it is a great partnership. I think we have an athletic department here that believes in the ‘one team’ theme and a lot of that has to do with all of the head coaches,” O’Brien said. “We have a lot of dynamic and energetic head coaches and our kids relate to each other on the different teams. So anytime our players can come out and support women’s basketball and men’s basketball I think that’s what they should do.”
Frazier added that the support is tremendous and that it is going around not just in basketball, but in general as far as the programs at Penn State.
“It is great. This game means so much more for all the fans who come out and support, to wear the pink jerseys and for the girls to come out and play well, it is just great for the community and Penn State,” Frazier said.
The Lions will close out the regular season on the road at Minnesota and Nebraska , which are both in the top half of the conference. The Lions have had trouble on the road this season with all of their losses coming away from Happy Valley and Bentley said there are still ways for the squad to improve.
“I was very proud of how my teammates played throughout the entire game,” Bentley said. “We are our worst critics and we wanted to play better, but who cares, we won, which is all that matters. I am really proud of my teammates.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the Lady Lions record. The Lady Lions are 13-1 in the Big Ten.