Published February 24, 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico looked down and put her hand to her forehead as if she had a headache.
A seven-minute scoreless stretch in the first half really hurt the Wolverines in a 68-57 loss Sunday to No. 7 Penn State.
After trailing by 19 early, Michigan (19-8, 8-6 Big Ten) clawed back to within four with 8 minutes left with the help of two 3s from Kate Thompson (25 points) during a 12-4 run early in the second half.
Penn State turned to defense to hold on and finish unbeaten at home. The Lady Lions nearly frittered away an early big lead built during an 18-0 run during Michigan's scoreless first-half stretch.
"Golly, if you could figure it out to help me," Barnes Arico said after the game when asked about the early struggles. "What you do is ... you just sit there as a coach and go 'Holy Cow!'"
Junior Maggie Lucas scored 21 points and Penn State held off the late charge to clinch at least a share of its second straight regular-season title on Senior Day.
Alex Bentley had 11 points and four steals, and set the emotional tone in the final appearance at the Jordan Center for the vocal guard and the other four seniors who helped bring the Lady Lions (23-3, 13-1) back to Big Ten prominence.
They got a second-half scare from Michigan after shots started falling for the Wolverines before both teams settled into a tight defensive contest.
Nya Jordan added 14 points and 10 rebounds for Michigan. Thompson was 5 of 13 from 3-point territory, and the nation's leader in 3-point buckets (3.69 per game) helped narrow the huge deficit to a two-possession game midway through the second half.
But the Lady Lions staved off their opponent, fueled by a sea of vocal fans wearing pink for the annual Pink Zone game to raise money breast cancer causes.
Ariel Edwards (11 points) gave the Lady Lions the break they needed on offense, hitting a 3 from the wing just before the shot-clock buzzer sounded for a seven-point lead with 7:11 left.
With the Jordan Center rocking, it was Penn State's turn to turn up the defensive pressure. Tori Waldner blocked Branae Harris' off-balance jumper in the lane with the shot clock winding down, and Bentley followed at the other end with a jumper from the top of the circle for a 57-48 lead with 6:25 left.
"Any time you start the way we started, it's hard to come back against a top team in the country," Barnes Arico said.
All Penn State needs now is to beat Minnesota on the road Thursday night to clinch the conference crown outright.
Michigan lost its second straight to a ranked foe after getting blown out by No. 24 Nebraska at home 57-39 last week. They entered Sunday in a three-way tie for fourth in the Big Ten and the last spot for an important first-round bye in the conference tournament next week.
Michigan finishes the regular-season schedule by hosting Northwestern on Thursday before traveling to Ohio State on Sunday. Barnes Arico said the tough two-game stretch will give her team a measuring stick for the final two games.
"We're not that far away," she said, "but being close and winning are two different things."
A game after shooting a season-low 27 percent in the loss to the Cornhuskers, Michigan wasn't much better against Penn State after hitting just 35 percent (19 of 54). The Lady Lions also held a 43-32 advantage on the boards, including nine from senior Nikki Greene.
Michigan just couldn't recover from Penn State's big first-half run. Penn State already had a 23-4 lead by the time Thompson hit a 3 with 8:25 left in the half to end the drought.
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