UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) - Penn State coach Coquese Washington leaned back on the scorer's table and took a sip from a bottle of water, looking satisfied as the clock ticked down to zero and her team up by 21 points on Illinois.
It was only halftime, and yet the seventh-ranked Lady Lions were already in firm control.
Maggie Lucas scored 22 points, backcourt mate Alex Bentley added 20 and Penn State overwhelmed Illinois in transition in a 95-62 win Wednesday night, moving a step closer to a second straight Big Ten regular-season title.
Sentinel photo by TIM SHUMAKER
Penn State’s Talia East (5) makes a layup over Illinois’ Nia Oden Wednesday evening in University Park.
The Lady Lions (22-3, 12-1) built a double-digit cushion by halftime after shooting 58 percent in the first half. Penn State had a two-game lead on second-place Nebraska entering Wednesday night, with three games left on the Lady Lions' schedule after the win over the Illini.
Penn State didn't let up down the stretch and led by as much as 27 early in the second half. Even 19 second-half turnovers couldn't derail Penn State after shooting 61 percent for the night - the first time the team eclipsed that mark since 1996.
"I thought we played well in spurts," Washington said. "I thought there were stretches ... where we were playing pretty sloppy and didn't do a good job of controlling the ball."
About the only area where Penn State fell short were turnovers, coughing up 29 on the evening overall after the second half deteriorated into a choppy pace that resembled a playground pick-up game. Illinois had 20 turnovers.
Otherwise, Illinois was overmatched after managing a 7-5 lead early in the first half. Illinois, which was tied for third in the league, visited Penn State two days after beating Wisconsin 60-53 at home.
The Lady Lions had a 49-26 run over the final 15 minutes of the half.
"Wow, were they good tonight," Illini coach Matt Bollant said. "They came out and punched us in the mouth and we really didn't respond."
Adrienne GodBold had 17 points for foul-plagued Illinois (15-10, 8-5). Karisma Penn finished with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting and five rebounds, but spent chunks of the game on the bench with foul trouble.
Ivory Crawford had 10 points before also fouling out with 9:17 left. The Illini shot just 33 percent (22 of 66) for the night.
Washington said Illinoi likes to play a chaotic tempo. The trouble is, Penn State's deep lineup can match up to virtually any defense - especially with the savvy guard trio of Bentley, Lucas and Dara Taylor (nine points, five steals, six turnovers) leading the charge in the backcourt.
The Lady Lions took advantage with aggressive Illinois overplaying the lanes at times and getting whistled for fouls.
"We really made it a point going into this game to make the extra pass, and we got a lot in transition in the first half, especially a lot of layups," Lucas said.
A two-minute stretch midway through the half exemplified Illinois' frustrating night. GodBold appeared to have a clear path to the basket before freshman Candice Agee swatted the ball away from behind. Lucas corralled the rebound before connecting on a textbook cross-court pass in transition to Bentley for a layup with 9:45 left in the half.
About 30 seconds later, Agee missed a foul shot but Penn State got the rebound and whipped the ball around the floor to counter the Illini's tight defense. Left open on the wing, Lucas called the ball and hit a 3 before an Illinois player jumped in front of her for a 13-point lead.
"Maggie hit it on the head. We did a good job of making the extra pass, finding a wide-open person," Washington said. "It took us the first few minutes of the game to adjust to the physical nature that they play."
Relentless Penn State attacked from all over the court on both ends of the floor. The balanced offense featured 13 points and seven rebounds from forward Mia Nickson and 11 points from guard/forward Ariel Edwards. Lucas also added nine rebounds.
The Lady Lions also controlled the lane with 10 blocks, including four from Tori Waldner and three from Agee.
Bollant managed to get his team settled in the second half, but the Illini could get no closer than 19 with 7:42 left to play. The first half had doomed his squad, and foul trouble forced the Illini to reign in their intensity.
"We lost some of our aggressiveness," he said. "I think we were a little shocked about how good they were."