MINNEAPOLIS -- Penn State coach Coquese Washington had a simple message to her team: The game is long, so have some patience and keep playing.
That's exactly what happened Sunday afternoon. Because despite making only one their first 18 shots and trailing by 15 points in the first half the Lady Lions (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) rallied for a 68-65 victory at Minnesota on Sunday.
"Forty minutes is a long time," Washington said. "Even if you're down 10, 12, 14 points, there's a lot of time left in the game and you simply have to focus on execution on both ends of the floor. ... We figured out the rhythm of the game, we executed better and we got stops on the defensive end when we needed."
Trailing by eight at halftime, the Lady Lions (18-5, 8-3 Big Ten) pounded the ball inside to get back in the game. But down three with 90 seconds to play, Penn State got a pair of crucial outside shots to fall to secure the victory.
Zhaque Gray made a 3-pointer with 1:11 to play to tie the game at 63-63. On Penn State's next possession, Alex Bentley (18 points) followed with a three from the top of three that gave the Lady Lions the lead for good, 66-65, with 38.9 seconds to play.
"We're a very confident team," Washington said. "I always try to tell them that if they miss early, keep shooting, the ball will find its way to the basket. I wasn't too concerned with the way we were shooting, we were getting good shots."
After Mia Nickson (20 points) made two free throws to give Penn State a 3-point lead, Minnesota had an opportunity to tie the game in the closing seconds. Gophers freshman Rachel Banham (14 points) had a good look from the right corner, but the shot wouldn't drop.
"I thought she had a good look at it, she got it off clean, and she was up and over the defender," Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. "I thought she had a great look at it and a great shot."
Said Nickson, who flew at Banham as she released the shot: "Luckily it didn't go in. I think she had a clear shot at the basket, but I was able to get there just in time so she wasn't able to get a great look at it. But she had a nice look at it."
When the Lady Lions secured the rebound, they were also able to close out a victory that didn't seem certain for much of the game.
"We didn't match their intensity at the jump the way we wanted to and they had some great looks in the first half," Nickson said.
Compounding that was the lack of offense over the first 12 minutes. Penn State entered the game with the second-best shooting percentage in the Big Ten but didn't make its second field goal until 7:31 remained in the first half.
"I thought they did a good job of making it hard for us to run our stuff, they defended us well," Washington said. "I did think that we missed some shots and I thought we turned the ball over too much early on. You put all three of those things together -- good defense, missing open shots and turning the ball over -- you're not going to score a lot of points."
But when the Lady Lions cut the lead to single digits by halftime, Penn State felt much more comfortable.
"We're a second-half team," Nickson said. "We knew down eight it wasn't a big problem. We just had to fix some things on defense, continue to work on our offense and we could come out with a win."
For the Gophers (12-13, 4-7), this was a missed opportunity. A week after upsetting Ohio State, the Gophers have now lost four of five games and are in ninth place in the conference.
The victory allowed the Lady Lions to move ahead of Ohio State and into third place in the conference despite not playing their best.
"It was ugly early and middle and late," Washington said. "But it's a win and we'll take it."