By Mel Greenberg
Everything came up roses for No. 7 Penn State’s seventh annual Pink Zone event Sunday as a crowd of 14,173 fans – fourth largest crowd in the program’s history – saw the Lady Lions top Michigan 68-57 in the Bryce Jordan Center and claim the top seed in the Big Ten tournament and at least a tie for first in the final standings for the second straight year.
Coach Coquese Washington’s squad can claim an outright regular season crowd for the second straight year with a win at Minnesota Thursday or Sunday at Nebraska, which trails Penn State (23-3, 13-1 Big Ten) by two games in the standing. In between the Cornhuskers, who moved over last season from the Big 12, will meet Wisconsin Thursday and a loss to the Badgers would also give the Lady Lions an outright title.
The Pink Zone is part of a nationwide activity in the month of February in the fight against breast cancer in memory of the late North Carolina State hall of fame coach Kay Yow, who succumbed to the disease on January 30, 2009.
A record 621 breast cancer survivors attended the game.
Narberth’s Maggie Lucas had another outstanding offensive performance for Penn State, scoring 21 points while grabbing five rebounds, dealing two assists, and grabbing three steals.
Senior Alex Bentley, in her final home game, scored 11 points, dealt five assists and grabbed four steals against the Wolverines ( 19-8, 8-6), whose first-year coach Kim Barnes Arico previously helped make St. John’s in the Big East into a national power.
Bentley is now third in steals on the all-time program list at Penn State.
Mia Nickson had 11 points and eight rebounds for the home team, while Ariel Edwards also scored 11 points.
It’s Penn State’s first conference repeat since back-to-back crowns in 2002-03 and 2003-04 during the Kelly Mazzante era under former coach Rene Portland, who was a star at Immaculata.
In 2004 the Lady Lions finished 15-1 in the Big Ten, whose tournament has moved from Indianapolis to Hoffman Estates in suburban Chicago and gets under way March 7 and continues through March 10.
Lucas joined the milestone club with her 1,700th point on the way to 1,711 and the win was the 200th in the Bryce Jordan Center after playing formerly for years in nearby Rec Hall.
Michigan’s Kate Thompson scored 25 points.
“I’m really excited right now. I don’t know what else to say,” exclaimed Bentley, whose farewell appearance at home was shared with four other seniors.
With a ranking in the Top 10 of the Associated Press women’s poll most of the season, Penn State’s two-year run among the nation’s elite represents a restoration of the program since Washington took over in the spring of 2007 from her previous job as associated head coach at Notre Dame, her alma mater.
“They’ve meant so much to this program,” Washington said of her upper class women. Their faith and their belief in Penn State has been tremendous.”
The Lady Lions had a sizeable lead with an 18-0 lead in the first half before nearly letting it get erased.
“Any time you start the way we started, it’s hard to come back against a top team in the country,” Barnes Arico said.
Materials from wire services and Penn State’s team report contributed to this post.