NCAA TOURNAMENT: Defense lets Penn State women down late
BATON ROUGE, La. — Penn State coach Coquese Washington spent an entire season preaching defense, and it helped the Lady Lions win even on nights when shots weren’t falling.
That is, until the final minutes of their second-round NCAA tournament game against LSU.
Adrienne Webb scored a career-high 29 points, including a pivotal 3-pointer with three minutes to play, Bianca Lutley added a clutch basket in the final 40 seconds, and LSU upset third-seeded Penn State 71-66 on Tuesday night.
“We’ve held teams scoreless the last five, six, seven, eight minutes of a game, and we didn’t do that tonight,” Washington said. “When they needed a basket, they got a basket. So defensively I felt we could have been a little bit better.”
Nikki Greene had 16 points and 16 rebounds, and Alex Bentley scored 14 for Penn State (26-6), whose loss meant all four No. 3 seeds were out of the tournament.
Bentley’s night started strong but ended with two misses in the final minute.
“They just came out in the second half with a little bit more firepower and a little bit more determination,” said Penn State forward Mia Nickson. “It’s really tough. We worked really hard to get here. ... It’s going to be hard to swallow.”
Penn State’s Maggie Lucas, the Lady Lions’ leading scorer all season and the Big Ten player of the year, shot 2 of 10 and finished with nine points, missing a 3-pointer and jumper in the tight final minutes.
“She got good looks. She didn’t knock them down, so that’s basketball,” Washington said. “That’s the way it goes some nights.”
Webb was 10-for-16 in what would have been her last game had No. 6 seed LSU (22-11) lost. Instead, she carried LSU to the Spokane Regional semifinal on a night when the Lady Tigers had only seven available players.
“Adrienne Webb is one of hardest-working players I’ve ever coached,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “Her competitive spirit on the defensive end allowed her to really have the attitude you have to have when you face a player like Lucas.”
“Her mental toughness is something she has fostered throughout the offseason,” Caldwell added. “So she’s been training for this type of game, this type of environment, this type of situation.”
Lutley overcame foul trouble and scored 18 points, including a tough floater in traffic in the final minute to give LSU the lead and added another key free throw to make it a four-point game with 8.3 seconds to go.
LSU next meets second-seeded California on Saturday.
The Lady Tigers opened the tournament with only eight healthy players, but reserve junior guard Jeanne Kenney’s concussion in LSU’s first-round victory sidelined her against the Lady Lions. Kenney, an emotional leader for the Lady Tigers, was told to stay home, Caldwell said, in an effort not to aggravate any of her symptoms.
The Lady Tigers hoped to avoid having key players in foul trouble, but that’s what happened. Lutley, a 5-11 starting forward, was called for her fourth foul with 11:51 left. Then 6-foot-4 reserve center Derreyal Youngblood was called for her fourth with 6:01 to go.
That limited both players’ aggressiveness in defending and rebounding, and Penn State appeared ready to pull away when Green scored three times inside. Taylor hit a layup with Lutley backing away during an 8-0 run that gave the Lady Lions a 60-55 lead.
But Lutley responded with a 3, and LSU regained the lead, at 63-62, on Webb’s 3 with 3:04 to go.
Ariel Edwards, who had 13 points for Penn State, drove past both Lutley and Youngblood for a layup, then hit a pull-up jumper with 54 seconds left that put Penn State in the lead for the final time at 66-65. But Lutley then dribbled into traffic in the lane and rolled in a shot to restore LSU’s lead.
Bentley put up long shots on each of Penn State’s next two possessions, and the Lions threw the ball away after Lutley’s missed her second free throw with 8.3 seconds.
The contributions by Webb and Lutley were particularly important on a night when 6-foot-5 Theresa Plaisance, an All-Southeastern Conference forward, shot 3-for-14 and finished with eight points.
“They’ve been a team all season that played through adversity. ... They kind of used that as fuel, and certainly it happened tonight,” Washington said of LSU. “They had some added emotion, along with the home crowd.”
As happens sometimes in women’s basketball, Penn State had to play on the road as the higher seed because first-round sites had been pre-determined. Last season, they overcame that to beat LSU in Baton Rouge in the second round, but not this time.
Now LSU is in the regional semifinals for the first time since 2008, while Penn State failed to get as far as it did last season despite appearing to have a deeper and more experienced team.
“It’s a tournament. People lose. Upsets happen,” Washington said. “That’s part of the tournament.”