Call them LSU’s miraculous seven.
Throughout their momentous run over the last month of the season to reach the NCAA tournament with a roster of just eight players, the Lady Tigers rallying cry was “Eight is enough.”
Tuesday night, with sparkplug guard Jeanne Kenney sidelined by what was believed to be a concussion, LSU’s seven remaining players were enough to pull off what was arguably the program’s biggest win in five seasons. They rallied from seven down at halftime to take down No. 3-seeded Penn State 71-66 in a second-round thriller at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU, the No. 6 seed in the Spokane Regional, improved to 22-11 and advanced to take on No. 2-seeded California on Saturday.
It is the Lady Tigers’ first trip to the Sweet 16 since they made the last of their five straight Women’s Final Four appearances in 2008 and 13th overall.
Penn State, which beat LSU 90-80 in a second-round NCAA game here last year, finished 26-6.
“Seventh heaven,” said a beaming Nikki Caldwell, who reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in four tries as a coach at LSU and UCLA. “You think about what this team did — just a courageous effort by these young ladies to come away with a great win against a very tough Penn State team.”
Kenney was held out of Tuesday’s game after being carried off the court Sunday night when she collided with teammate Adrienne Webb in the final minute of LSU’s 75-71 first-round win over Green Bay.
With Kenney out and All-Southeastern Conference forward Theresa Plaisance held below double figures for the first time in 32 straight games, it fell to Webb to put LSU on her shoulders in what, win or lose, would be the final home game of her impressive career.
“All seven of us came together and played for our fans out there and everyone who has supported us, and we played for Jeanne,” Webb said.
“Jeanne has been a leader for us on the court, vocal, getting stops on defense, taking charges. I wanted to see her play one more game. That was my motivation at the beginning of the game, to play in Spokane and have Jeanne with me.”
Webb dominated at both ends of the floor, pouring in a career-high 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting while limiting Big Ten player of the year Maggie Lucas to nine points. Lucas torched LSU for 30 points in the Lady Lions’ win over LSU last year.
Bianca Lutley, also playing in her final home game as a senior, replaced Kenney in the starting lineup and added 18 points, muscling through a double team in the lane for the go-ahead basket with 41 seconds left.
In a game where one team made a run and the other answered, LSU pulled out to an early 24-16 lead with 8:55 left in the first half on a steal and fast break basket by freshman guard Danielle Ballard.
But Penn State, led by Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award winner Alex Bentley, stormed back, outscoring LSU the rest of the half 26-11 to take a 42-35 halftime lead.
It seemed the Lady Tigers were done, but keyed by a jumper by Plaisance (held to just eight points) and a pair of baskets by Webb, LSU opened the second half on a 10-0 run to go up 45-42 with 16:10 left.
The Lady Tigers went 6½ minutes without scoring as Penn State came back to take a 60-55 lead on a basket by center Nikki Greene, who led the Lady Lions with 16 points.
But Lutley answered with a 3-pointer to keep LSU in it, then Webb drained another from the top of the key for a 63-62 lead with 3:02 remaining.
Penn State took its last lead with 53.9 seconds left when Ariel Edwards’ jumper from the left wing put her team up 66-65.
Lutley answered with her final basket, then Webb made a pair of one-and-one free throws and Lutley made another.
Webb put an exclamation point on the win with a steal with three seconds left. She added one more free throw with 1.8 seconds remaining for the final margin.
“I didn’t think that would necessarily be a negative for them,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said of Kenney’s absence. “I think they rallied around that. They’re a team all season that has played through adversity and it seemed any adversity they used for fuel.
“Certainly that happened tonight. They had some added emotion with the home crowd … giving them an added boost and adrenaline.”
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