MINNEAPOLIS - Penn State coach Coquese Washington had a simple message to her team: The game is long, so have some patience and keep playing.
That's exactly what happened Sunday afternoon. Because despite making only one their first 18 shots and trailing by 15 points in the first half the No. 19 Lady Lions rallied for a 68-65 victory at Minnesota.
"Forty minutes is a long time," Washington said. "Even if you're down 10, 12, 14 points, there's a lot of time left in the game and you simply have to focus on execution on both ends of the floor. ... We figured out the rhythm of the game, we executed better and we got stops on the defensive end when we needed."
Trailing by eight at halftime, the Lady Lions (18-5, 8-3 Big Ten) pounded the ball inside to get back in the game. But down three with 90 seconds to play, Penn State got a pair of crucial outside shots to fall to secure the victory.
Zhaque Gray made a 3-pointer with 1:11 to play to tie the game at 63-63. On Penn State's next possession, Alex Bentley (18 points) followed with a three from the top of three that gave the Lady Lions the lead for good, 66-65, with 38.9 seconds to play.
"We're a very confident team," Washington said. "I always try to tell them that if they miss early, keep shooting, the ball will find its way to the basket. I wasn't too concerned with the way we were shooting, we were getting good shots."
After Mia Nickson (20 points) made two free throws to give Penn State a 3-point lead, Minnesota had an opportunity to tie the game in the closing seconds. Gophers freshman Rachel Banham (14 points) had a good look from the right corner, but the shot wouldn't drop.
"I thought she had a good look at it, she got it off clean, and she was up and over the defender," Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. "I thought she had a great look at it and a great shot."
Said Nickson, who flew at Banham as she released the shot: "Luckily it didn't go in. I think she had a clear shot at the basket, but I was able to get there just in time so she wasn't able to get a great look at it. But she had a nice look at it."
When the Lady Lions secured the rebound, they were also able to close out a victory that didn't seem certain for much of the game.
"We didn't match their intensity at the jump the way we wanted to and they had some great looks in the first half," Nickson said.
"I thought they did a good job of making it hard for us to run our stuff, they defended us well," Washington said.
PENN ST. (18-5): Nickson 5-9 10-12 20, Greene 2-8 2-2 6, Gray 2-8 2-2 8, Bentley 6-13 3-7 16, Lucas 4-13 0-0 10, East 0-0 0-0 0, Edwards 0-2 2-2 2, Studevent 0-0 0-0 0, Waldner 3-5 0-0 6. Totals 22-58 19-25 68.
MINNESOTA (12-13): Kellogg 4-9 2-2 11, Loberg 2-6 0-0 4, Banham 5-15 4-4 14, Cotton 0-0 0-0 0, Buford 5-15 3-4 13, Riche 1-1 3-4 5, Noga 1-4 1-2 3, B. Mastey 3-5 5-6 11, Dvorak 1-3 2-2 4. Totals 22-58 20-24 65.
Halftime-Minnesota 32-24. 3-Point Goals-Penn St. 5-14 (Lucas 2-4, Gray 2-6, Bentley 1-3, Edwards 0-1), Minnesota 1-7 (Kellogg 1-1, Noga 0-1, Banham 0-5). Fouled Out-Kellogg. Rebounds-Penn St. 33 (Greene, Nickson 9), Minnesota 42 (Buford 10). Assists-Penn St. 12 (Bentley, Lucas 4), Minnesota 14 (Buford 5). Total Fouls-Penn St. 20, Minnesota 19. A-4,324.