By Jim Rodenbush
For the Mirror
UNIVERSITY PARK - Another Big Ten opponent and another blowout victory. It continues to be a dominating stretch for the Penn State women's basketball team.
The No. 8 Lady Lions scored the game's first 11 points and breezed to an 84-40 victory over Wisconsin on Thursday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Penn State (14-2, 4-0 Big Ten), which has won eight straight, has now beaten its past three conference opponents by more than 20 points. The Lady Lions last accomplished that during the 2004-05 season.
"We're playing really good. Our chemistry is great," said Nikki Greene, who led Penn State with a season-best 23 points and 14 rebounds. "I feel like we're on the same page. There are times when we slip but we go into a timeout, come out and bring the energy that we do."
Just like in its past two victories over Michigan State and Nebraska, Penn State's defense again led the way against Wisconsin. The Lady Lions held the Badgers to 26.4 shooting and forced 24 turnovers. Penn State had 17 steals, including six from Alex Bentley.
"We work on it [in practice]," Penn State coach Coquese Washington said about her team's defense. "We just try to spend a lot of time in practice reinforcing our defensive principles. When you go into a game, you don't know what people are going to do. Our foundation has to be solid. It's getting better and better as the season goes along."
Bentley added 14 points for Penn State, which increased its home winning streak to 15 games. Maggie Lucas had 11 and Ariel Edwards scored 10 off the bench.
Morgan Paige scored 14 points for Wisconsin (8-10, 0-5).
The Lady Lions limited the Badgers to one basket in the game's first seven minutes and quickly built a 13-point lead.
Penn State forced seven turnovers, including four off steals, during this stretch. Bentley converted a back court steal into an easy lay-up and later turned another steal into a pair of free throws that Penn State up 8-0.
"Our defense, what we do is pressure," Bentley said. "Our defensive principles are to pressure up. We expect turnovers."
Dara Taylor's 3-pointer made it 11-0 before Nicole Bauman gave Wisconsin its first points with a 3 of her own with 15:35 left. A 3-pointer from Lucas and a jumper from Bentley off another Wisconsin turnover pushed Penn State's lead to 16-3.
Penn State led 24-9 just past the halfway mark of the first half when its defense again clamped down. The Lady Lions held Wisconsin without a field goal for over six minutes and it was Greene who took advantage.
Her lay-up and jumper made it a 22-point game. The senior center later hit 1 of 2 free throws to give Penn State its biggest lead of the half, 38-13, with 3:48 left.
The 20-point game was Greene's second this season. She just missed her career high of 25, set last season against Ohio State.
"They were guarding [Lucas] and [Bentley] tough," Greene said. "I was trying to take advantage of what they gave us on defense. And I just scored."
Greene, who frequently battles foul trouble, just missed her season high with 27 minutes.
"Nikki's an incredibly talented player," Washington said. "When she's on the floor, she can put up big numbers for us. That opens up things for other people."
A back court steal and layup from Gizelle Studevent at the horn kept the Lady Lions' lead at 25 points, 46-21, at halftime.
The Lady Lions quickly increased their lead to 30 points with 17:26 left in the game. Wisconsin got no closer than 29 the rest of the way.
The 44-point victory is Penn State's largest in Big Ten play since a 91-48 win over Northwestern on Jan. 22, 2006.
WISCONSIN (8-10): Bauman 2-6 0-0 6, Paige 5-15 2-2 14, Stephen 1-7 2-4 4, Gulczynski 3-13 2-2 10, Rochel 2-5 0-0 4, Malone 0-0 0-0 0, Whyte 1-6 0-0 2, Cichy 0-0 0-0 0, Kryuchkova 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 14-53 6-8 40.
PENN ST. (14-2): Taylor 3-5 0-0 8, Bentley 5-14 4-6 14, Nickson 3-6 2-2 8, Lucas 3-11 3-4 11, Greene 9-16 5-7 23, East 1-3 1-2 3, Edwards 5-9 0-0 10, Studevent 2-5 1-2 5, Waldner 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 32-73 16-23 84.
Halftime-Penn St. 46-21. 3-Point Goals-Wisconsin 6-24 (Bauman 2-4, Gulczynski 2-6, Paige 2-11, Stephen 0-1, Whyte 0-2), Penn St. 4-10 (Taylor 2-3, Lucas 2-4, Waldner 0-1, Bentley 0-2). Fouled Out-East. Rebounds-Wisconsin 31 (Gulczynski 10), Penn St. 55 (Greene 14). Assists-Wisconsin 10 (Stephen 7), Penn St. 15 (Taylor 6). Total Fouls-Wisconsin 17, Penn St. 17. A-3,848.