STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Two late calls helped derail Minnesota's run for a potential upset in one of the Big Ten's toughest venues.
Until then, Rachel Banham and her teammates had an answer nearly every time No. 8 Penn State tried to pull away on their home floor.But Banham was whistled for traveling and an offensive foul on back-to-back possessions with 1:09 left, then missed a potential tying 3 with 13 seconds to go in a 64-59 loss in Happy Valley."Critical plays and critical calls at the end, that was the only difference," Gophers coach Pam Borton said.Banham finished with 19 points, while Micaella Riche added 12 for Minnesota (13-7, 2-4), which was off to its best start since 2007-08.Maggie Lucas scored 26 points for Penn State, and Nikki Greene had 13 rebounds and hit three key second-half buckets. Alex Bentley added 12 points as the Lady Lions (16-2, 6-0) hung on for their 10th straight win despite struggling from the field.Even 23 turnovers couldn't keep the Gophers from staying competitive all night at the Jordan Center, where Penn State hasn't lost a game in more than a year.Minnesota kept Penn State off-guard defensively by attacking the basket and making tough shots in the lane. Banham and reserve Leah Cotton (seven points) took turns lowering their shoulders to take strong drives to the hoop.After a 21-point loss in their last game Sunday at home to Nebraska, the Gophers can at least take heart that they finished a stretch of four road games in six Big Ten contests with a solid effort against the conference favorites."I thought we had good intensity," Borton said. "I thought for the most part, we locked into our game plan today."The Gophers had a chance to take the lead twice late with the ball in the hands of their best player, Banham. But the sophomore drew the two late calls, each time with her team trailing by one.Banham then missed a 3 with 13 seconds left and Lucas pumped her arms after getting fouled on the other end. Her two free throws gave Penn State an insurmountable five-point lead with 2.9 seconds to go.It didn't help Penn State that Lucas was often the team's only offensive threat for long spurts. Bentley struggled with her mid-range jumper, while Greene and the Lady Lions' other inside players struggled to make shots whether open or with hands in their faces.That changed midway through the second half, when Greene hit a layup to tie the score at 47 before converting a missed foul shot for a three-point lead. Then Bentley finally found her shot with a mid-range jumper for a 52-47 lead with 5:28 left.Greene finished with nine points on 3-of-11 shooting -- all three makes in the final 7:54.Minnesota never took the lead again, but the Gophers never made it easy. Riche's layup with 50 seconds left drew her team to 60-59, but Lucas hit all four of her foul shots during the final stretch and Penn State forced two turnovers in the last 7 seconds.The Lady Lions are off to their best start since 1999-00.Minnesota tested Penn State from the start, wiggling past the Lady Lions' tough defense with dribble penetration to help stay within 31-29 at halftime. Cotton gave Minnesota a spark off the bench in the first half with four rebounds and five points, reaching her season averages..