NCAA TOURNAMENT: PENN STATE 83, FLORIDA 61 -- Lucas, Lions breeze into Sweet 16 in front of home crowd
STATE COLLEGE — Maggie Lucas planted a kiss on the Penn State logo, one final imprint on her home court.
She was the last Lady Lion to sprint toward the locker room, pumping her fist for the final time in front of her fans.
Lucas is determined not to make it her final celebration in the NCAA tournament.
Lucas and Dara Taylor each scored 22 points to send Penn State into the Sweet 16 with a 83-61 win over Florida on Tuesday night.
“That we’re able to share it with the fans, it’s just a whole better feeling,” Lucas said. “It’s a great way to go out of the Bryce Jordan Center.”
Moments after the final horn sounded, Lucas ran toward the fans and let loose a yell a season in the making.
The third-seeded Lady Lions (24-7) are going on to the next round and will play at No. 2 Stanford (30-3) on Sunday.
Lucas, the two-time Big Ten player of the year, surpassed the 2,500 career-point milestone and led the Lady Lions to the NCAA tournament regional semifinal for the second time in three seasons.
Ariel Edwards added 16 points for Penn State. The Lady Lions are in the Sweet 16 for the 13th time.
“It’s just sweet,” coach Coquese Washington said. “It’s like dark chocolate with caramel sweet.”
Led by Lucas and Taylor, the Lady Lions controlled the game from the opening tip, and gave the home crowd one more big win to savor.
Edwards hit a jumper and Taylor drove for a layup, giving the Lady Lions a 15-point lead to start the second half and force Florida into a timeout.
Lucas soon hit her third 3-pointer of the game and her fourth was a big one that put the Lions up 56-36. Lucas, PSU’s emotional leader, pumped her first and directed an exuberant shout toward the fans.
She swished a free throw early in the second half for her 2,500th career point.
Lucas got her due in her final home game, leaving for the final time to a standing ovation. She clapped her hands, waved her arms and pointed to the fans before hugging her teammates.
“It wasn’t about history, it wasn’t about the future,” Washington said. “It was, what do we have to do tonight to play against a really good Florida team.”
Penn State started with pressure defense that rattled the Gators early and forced them into 20 total turnovers. They rarely hit a slow patch on offense, shooting 52 percent in the second half to lead by as many as 28 points.
Kayla Lewis led the 11th-seeeded Gators (20-13) with 20 points and nine rebounds. Jaterra Bonds scored 14.
“They pressured us up,” Lewis said. “We turned the ball over a little bit too much.”
The Gators, who surprised No. 6 Dayton in the first round, could never dig out of a cold start, missing 10 of 13 shots to open the game. Much like how they put away Wichita State in the opener with a 17-0 run, the Lady Lions used an early 11-0 spurt to build a lead they would never surrender.
But the Gators refused to go away quietly. Carlie Needles hit a pair of 3s to straighten out the offense and Florida chipped the deficit to six.
“I’m sure the folks that are here that aren’t familiar with our team figured we’d fold our hands and go away,” coach Amanda Butler said.
But the run didn’t last for long. Butler let her emotions get the best of her in a big game, waving her arms in protest over a call and was whistled for a technical.
Lucas, a 95 percent free-throw shooters, hit both free throws to help send the Lady Lions into halftime with a 43-32 lead.
Now, it’s off to California.
“Let’s go for a ride and see how it turns out,” Washington said.