- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Penn State ran into an emotional senior night last Thursday at Minnesota and the Gophers handed the Big Ten leader just its second league loss.
Penn State was in a similar situation Sunday in the regular-season finale at Nebraska. It wasn't just the seniors that the Huskers were bidding a fond farewell to (although they still have the Big Ten and NCAA tourneys to play, of course).
Nebraska was also saying goodbye to its longtime home, the Devaney Center. That will become the women's volleyball team's home next season; the men's and women's hoops team move to the new arena.
Add in that Nebraska was on a 10-game winning streak, and it seemed like the odds were stacked against Penn State. Which is just what Maggie Lucas loves.
The junior guard's career-high eight 3-pointers anchored a 34-point, nine-rebound performance in Penn State's 82-67 victory that secured the Big Ten regular-season title outright. Next stop: Chicago.
For just the second time since the Big Ten started its annual women's hoops tournament in 1995, the event will be held outside Indianapolis. The Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill., will host the league tourney starting Thursday. (In 2001, the tournament was held in Grand Rapids, Mich.)
There was a "league tournament" at Michigan State in February 1982, which was actually the season before the Big Ten officially sponsored women's basketball. The annual event didn't begin until 1995, and Penn State won the title that year and in 1996.
But Penn State hasn't taken the Big Ten tournament since then, so Lucas and her teammates have a goal in sight that has eluded the program for a long time.
Penn State's four losses this season all have come on the road: at Miami, at UConn, at Wisconsin and then at Minnesota last week. The Lady Lions could be facing the Golden Gophers again in their Big Ten tourney opener; No. 8 seed Minnesota plays No. 9 Ohio State in the first round.
Meanwhile, Nebraska reached the Big Ten tournament title game last year in the Huskers' first season in the league. They lost to Purdue, which has won more Big Ten tournaments (eight) than any other program.
This year, the No. 2 seed Huskers will open with the winner of No. 7 Iowa versus No. 10 Northwestern. The Hawkeyes and Wildcats just played Sunday, with 19-11 Iowa getting a much-needed victory to finish 8-8 in the league and feel a little more secure about NCAA tournament inclusion.
Purdue, the No. 3 seed, had a troublesome February, going 2-5 last month. But the Boilermakers opened March with a victory over Illinois on Sunday. And even if the league tournament isn't in Indy this year, Purdue's successful history in the event means you can't count out the Boilers regardless of their recent struggles.
No. 4 seed Michigan State is the last of the first-round bye teams, and the Spartans could face rival Michigan in the quarterfinals. In her first season in Ann Arbor, coach Kim Barnes Arico guided the Wolverines to the No. 5 seed; they'll open with No. 12 Indiana.
But Penn State definitely is the favorite. Since Coquese Washington took over as Penn State coach for the 2007-08 season, she has been rebuilding the program to it previous greatest heights, which include a 2000 Women's Final Four appearance.
Penn State bounced back strong from both of its Big Ten losses this year. Now, after back-to-back regular-season titles, Penn State hopes to grab hold of a trophy that hasn't been to State College, Pa., in a long time.