NCAA women’s tournament: Lucas leads Penn State’s charge into 2nd round

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STATE COLLEGE – Maggie Lucas is perpetually in motion, cupping her hands to her ears to inspire the home crowd, or flashing three fingers after another clutch bucket. Her Penn State teammates are always on guard, prepped to be on the receiving end of an elevated chest bump after a game-changing run.


Lucas funnels the fervor of thousands of Penn State fans back into her teammates, and that jolt has made the Lady Lions tough to beat on their home court.


“I know in times of need, when we feel like we need a little extra energy, we go to them,” Lucas said Monday.


When the Lady Lions need a big play, they turn to Lucas.


Lucas’ resume is stuffed with so many scoring records and individual awards that it’s hard to catch every small-print accolade typed on her postseason media guide page. There’s this record, and that record. Row after row.


But she wants more – and she’s on the brink of squeezing at least one more weekend out of her storied career. Lucas leads the third-seeded Lady Lions (23-7) against No. 11 seed Florida (20-12) tonight in the second round of the NCAA tournament’s Stanford Regional.


As a bonus, the Nittany Lions get to play at the Bryce Jordan Center.


Their home court that was rocking after they knocked off Wichita State Sunday. Lucas scored 22 points and sparked a rally with consecutive 3s that helped send them into the second round for the fourth straight season.


Lucas’ value can’t be measured only in box scores.


“When you see (center) Talia East make big plays down the stretch, maybe what you don’t see is the minutes before those plays happen where she’s talking to T and talking to her teammates, keeping them encouraged about making plays,” coach Coquese Washington said.


WVU seeks NCAA breakthrough vs. LSU: West Virginia coach Mike Carey would like to think the Mountaineers are due for a second-round victory in the NCAA tournament.


That the Mountaineers have perhaps their best team in school history should help when WVU (30-4), seeded second in the Louisville region, takes on seventh-seeded LSU (20-12) tonight.


“My philosophy is, if you can get to that point, eventually, hopefully, you win one,” Carey said before practice Monday. “If you keep knocking on the door, hopefully it’s going to open up for you a little bit. Our teams have done a great job to get to this point and we need to take the next step. I said that before the year started.”


The Mountaineers have lost all seven second-round games in program history. Five of those losses have come in the previous seven seasons, starting with a loss to LSU’s 2007 Final Four team.


This season, WVU set a school record for victories, won the Big 12 regular-season title, and narrowly lost to Baylor (74-71) in the Big 12 tournament championship. It has its highest tournament seeding ever.


On Sunday, the Mountaineers built a large lead, withstood a desperate comeback attempt by No. 15 seed Albany, and then pulled away again for a comfortable 76-61 victory. That set up what at first glance looks like a favorable second-round matchup with the Lady Tigers, who entered the tournament having lost eight of 10 games.


But LSU, which has the benefit of being one of the hosts for the first two rounds, looked like a team transformed in its 98-78 victory over No. 10 seed Georgia Tech in the first round.


Senior Theresa Plaisance said the urgency that the NCAA tournament provides helped LSU, which labored through a tough Southeastern Conference slate, finally play to its true potential.


“You know, it’s pulling at my heart that one day I’m going to have to hang up my jersey,” Plaisance said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to prolong that. I know the (other) seniors feel the same way.”


One quirk in the women’s tournament is that some higher seeds wind up playing virtual road games against underdog opponents. That has worked to LSU’s advantage before. The Lady Tigers are 17-3 in tournament games in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, including a second-round upset over Penn State last year.


Given LSU’s season-best performance Sunday, famed Louisiana recording artist Dr. John might suggest that WVU has run up against the Lady Tigers in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the Mountaineers sound confident they can handle it.


“It is difficult coming into someone else’s arena and trying to score and get the win, but I think we’ve done that in the past,” WVU center Asya Bussie said. “We’ve proven that we can go into other people’s gyms and come out with a win.”


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