STATE COLLEGE, PA. – Perhaps no one on the Gophers women’s basketball team has shouldered a bigger load than Shayne Mullaney since a season-ending injury to backcourtmate Rachel Banham in December.
More ballhandling duties, more scoring, more everything.
The junior guard stepped up Sunday afternoon when she matched her career high with 18 points and added eight assists in an 85-77 victory over Penn State. Mullaney scored all but one of her points in the second half and knocked down five of her team’s season-high 12 three-pointers on only six attempts.
The Gophers (20-6, 9-5 Big Ten) reached 20 regular-season victories for the first time since the 2007-08 season by ending a three-game road losing streak and completing a season sweep of the Lady Lions (6-20, 3-12). Entering the game, they were only 3-16 at the Bryce Jordan Center and had lost four in a row there. This trip was complicated by poor weather that diverted their flight to Hagerstown, Md., where they were bused the rest of the way.
The Gophers will take a three-game winning streak into a critical four-game stretch that closes out the regular season and could determine their postseason fate. Two of those games will be against 14th-ranked Iowa (20-4), the first coming on Tuesday night at Williams Arena.
“It wasn’t just the threes,” Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said about Mullaney. “It was how she handled the ball.”
The Gophers turned the ball over just once during their 52-point second half against a tall, physical team.
Mullaney had plenty of help. Shae Kelley, coming off a 33-point game, had 23 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three blocks, and Carlie Wagner had 17 points, five rebounds and two steals. Wagner, the freshman, is averaging 19.5 points in her last four games.
Kayla Hirt had six points, six rebounds and three assists off the bench.
The only starter who didn’t reach double figures in points was leading scorer Amanda Zahui B., who got into foul trouble and fouled out in the final minute. Normally, that’s a bad sign.
The two times the Gophers fell behind in the second half it was a Mullaney three-pointer that put them back ahead.
“She has that potential and she knows we give her the green light to shoot any time she’s open, and in a game like this where they are going to play a little more zone, she’s going to get more open looks,” Stollings said. “We are usually yelling at her to shoot even more, and I was very happy to see her step up tonight and take those shots.”
During one stretch, Penn State cut the Gophers’ lead to 52-51. Then Wagner hit a three. The Lady Lions cut it to one again, 55-54, and Mullaney hit a three. Penn State then took a 59-58 lead and Mullaney hit another three to put the Gophers up for good. They twice led by 11 points.
The Gophers were 8-for-12 from three-point range in the second half and for the game shot 54.5 percent from beyond the arc. They needed it because they were outscored 46-22 in the paint.
“They threw four different defenses at us today, and I am very proud with how our kids handled that because there was a lot coming at us.” Stollings said.
Mullaney now has 165 assists for the season, the fourth-highest total in school history. She needs 10 more to move into third and 28 more to move into second.
Penn State’s leading scorer, freshman Lindsey Spann, was held to six points.