By Mel Greenberg
Narberth’s Maggie Dixon continued on the way to All-American acclaim Sunday night powering seventh-ranked Penn State with eight three-pointers and 34 points to an 82-67 win over 20th-ranked Nebraska (22-7, 12-4 Big Ten) on the road in Lincoln to avoid sharing the regular season title and landing the conference trophy with an outright finish at the top for the second straight season.
The Lady Lions (24-4, 14-2), who had their best conference finish since 15-1 in 2003-04, clinched the No. 1 seed for the Big Ten tournament a week ago but an upset loss at Minnesota Thursday night forced coach Coquese Washington’s group into a showdown with the second-place Cornhuskers, who were dislodged from a 10-game winning streak.
Her team, which has improved each season in conference play six straight times since Washington’s hire in the spring of 2007, is now 5-1 against ranked opponents this season.
Penn State has a first-round bye in the action that leads to an NCAA automatic bid and begins at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill., near Chicago on Thursday and then will meet either eighth-seeded Minnesota or ninth-seeded Ohio State at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday night in the quarterfinals.
Nebraska, which also has a bye, will meet the winner of seventh-seeded Iowa and 10th-seeded Northwestern in another quarterfinal, while third-seeded Purdue in the quarterfinals gets to face the first-round winner between sixth-seeded Illinois and 11th-seeded Wisconsin.
Fourth-seeded Michigan State has the other bye to the quarterfinals and will meet either fifth-seeded Michigan or 12th-seeded Indiana.
The survivors of the Penn State and Michigan State side of the quarterfinals meet in Saturday’s semifinal round on Saturday while the Nebraska-Purdue side meets in the other semifinal. The championship will be 4 p.m. on Sunday and televised on ESPN2.
The Lady Lions could land a No. 2 seed in the NCAA field by winning the Big Ten postseason berth. A year ago they made it to the Sweet 16 semifinals before running into Connecticut at the University of Rhode’s Ryan Center in Kingston.
“It’s important to us, we didn’t want to share it,” Lucas said of the regular season achievement. However, she knows there’s more to pursue, saying, “We have more things to accomplish.”
A three-point ace, the eight treys were a career high for Lucas.
“Every time she shoots, I’m surprised if it doesn’t go in,” Washington said. “She didn’t take any bad shots. They were all good looks.”
Nebraska, which moves into a new arena in downtown Lincoln next season, was swept by Penn State in the Cornhuskers’ final home game in the Devaney Center, where Lucas’ marksmanship from beyond the arc set an arena record.
“If they keep doing what they’re doing, they’re capable of being an Elite Eight or Final Four type of team,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori observed.
Of course if the seeds play out the two teams could meet again in the Big Ten tournament championship game on Sunday .
Alex Bentley, part of the terrific backcourt tandem with Lucas, at Penn State, scored 13 points while Mia Nickson and Nikki Greene each scored 10.
Lindsey Moore had a team high 23 points for Nebraska.
Big Ten Tournament Schedule
(All times EST)
First Round Thursday (All Games Big Ten TV thru Semifinals)
No. 7 (seed) Iowa vs. No. 10 Northwestern, 12:30 p.m.
No. 6 Illinois vs. No. 11 Wisconsin, 25 minutes after Game 1
No. 8 Minnesota vs. No. 9 Ohio State, 7 p.m.
No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 12 Indiana, 25 minutes after Game 3
No. 2 Nebraska vs. No. 7 Iowa/No. 10 Northwestern, 12:30 p.m.
No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 6 Illinois/No. 11 Wisconsin, 25 minutes after Game 5
No. 1 Penn State vs. No. 8 Minnesota/No. 9 Ohio State, 7 p.m.
No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Michigan/No. 12 Indiana , 25 minutes after Game 7
Nebraska side vs. Purdue side survivors, 5 p.m.
Penn State side vs. Michigan State side survivors, 25 minutes, after first game.
Semifinal winners, 4 p.m., ESPN2-TV.
Material from team reports and wires were used to compiled this report.