LSU upsets No. 3 Penn State to advance
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer
BATON ROUGE — Adrienne Webb pumped a fist in the air as she was lifted up by teammate Theresa Plaisance, basking in the wild cheers of the heavily pro-LSU crowd.
With the best shooting night of her career and a relentless effort on defense, the feisty senior guard helped send LSU through to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2008.
Webb scored a career-high 29 points, including two crucial free throws with 22 seconds left, and LSU upset third-seeded Penn State 71-66 in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Tuesday night.
“I had to play my hardest in (potentially) our last game, because it’s do or die,” said Webb, who also defended Big Ten player of the year Maggie Lucas and helped hold her to 2-for-10 shooting. “I really had to assert myself.”
Bianca 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.
Webb was 10 of 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.”
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 a miss in the final minutes that could have given the Lady Lions the lead.
“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.”
Lucas finished with nine points.
"She got good looks. She didn’t knock them down, so that’s basketball,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said of her leading scorer. “That’s the way it goes some nights.”
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.
“Jeanne has really been a leader for us on the court — vocal, getting stops on defense, coming down and taking charges and I wanted to see her play her one more game,” Webb said. “I wanted to play in Spokane and have Jeanne Kenney out there with me.”
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 for the lead with 40 seconds to go.
The contributions by Webb and Lutley were particularly important on a night when Plaisance, an All-Southeastern Conference forward, shot 3 of 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.”