BATON ROUGE – Somewhere up above legendary coach Sue Gunter is smiling. Senior guard Adrienne Webb scored a career-high 29 points in her final home game to lead a short-handed LSU women’s basketball team its first Sweet 16 since 2008 with a thrilling 71-66 win over eighth-ranked Penn State in front of a raucous 3,055 fans on Tuesday night in the Maravich Center.
The Lady Tigers (22-11) advanced to their 13th all-time Sweet 16 and will play No. 2 seed California (30-3) in the Spokane, Wash., regional semifinal at 10:32 p.m. CT Saturday in Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. The game will be televised by ESPN2 and ESPN3.com. No. 4 seed Georgia and No. 1 seed Stanford play the first semifinal at 8:04 p.m. CT.
In one of the greatest team performances in Lady Tiger history, an active roster of seven players eliminated a Penn State team (26-6) who defeated LSU on this same floor a year ago and did it while recovering from a once nine-point deficit. The Lady Tigers were without the services of junior guard and leader Jeanne Kenney, who suffered a head injury in the final seconds of the first round win over Green Bay.
“Seventh heaven,” said LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell as she opened her press conference. “I was really proud of our team and what they did tonight without one of our leaders in Jeanne Kenney. It was just a courageous effort by these seven young ladies and coming away with a great win against a very, very tough Penn State.”
Seniors Webb, Bianca Lutley and her teammates played inspired in her absence. The two combined for 47 points in their final Maravich Center game. Webb fired in 10-of-16 from the floor, swished a go-ahead three in the final three minutes and sealed the game with three free throws in the final 21 seconds.
“We did not want our last game to be played with seven players,” said Webb. “All seven of us got together and really came together and played for our fans which were out there and everyone who had supported us. We also played for Jeanne because for me Jeanne has really been a leader for us. That was my motivation at the beginning of the game that I wanted to play this game and have Jeanne Kenney out on the floor with me.”
After Penn State regained the lead on an Ariel Edwards jumper, Lutley worked her way into the paint and scored, giving LSU the lead for good, 67-66, with 0:40 on the clock. The Lady Lions’ Alex Bentley, who scored 16 points, missed a jumper on the other end. Webb then followed with two free throws and Lutley accounted for a free throw that put the game out of reach.
Lutley finished with 18 points and six assists. She and Webb combined to score nine of LSU’s last 11 points. Junior forward Shanece McKinney had a clutch putback late and scored eight points.
Webb and freshman Danielle Ballard gave Penn State’s guards fits all night. Lady Lion leading scorer Maggie Lucas, who dropped 30 points a year ago against LSU, was held to just 2-of-10 shooting. The Lady Tigers limited her touches and she did not take her first shot of the game until the 8:02 mark of the first half.
LSU recovered from a 42-35 halftime deficit by the inspired play of Webb, who drained her first five shots of the second stanza. The Lady Tigers opened the half with a 10-0 run as Webb couldn’t miss from the baseline.
LSU shot 46.6 percent from the floor and got contributions from all seven players on the active roster. The Lady Tigers also converted 15 Penn State turnovers into 24 points.
As the final horn sounded, LSU players surrounded midcourt and a raucous celebration ensued. Webb and Lutley left the Maravich Center floor for the final time in a way you could not have scripted any better.
“I could see our team really taking in the atmosphere here, and it was a great atmosphere, especially for our seniors knowing that this is their last game at home,” said Caldwell. “We just appreciate the fans who have stayed the course with us and who continue to believe in us when things looked a little bleak. This was an unbelievable crowd.”