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Penn State breezes in opener of NCAA Women's Tournament

| Sunday, March 24, 2013, 7:21 p.m.
Penn State center Nikki Greene (center) gets tied up going for a rebound with Cal Poly's Molly Schlemer (left) and Kristen Ale during the second half of NCAA Women's Tournament first-round game Sunday, March 24, 2013, at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.

BATON ROUGE, La. — Penn State's offense took a while to get untracked in what eventually became an 85-55 first-round NCAA Women's Tournament rout of Cal Poly.

“Coming out better defensively in the second half, that's what really got our momentum going,” said Maggie Lucas, the Big Ten Player of the Year who led the Lady Lions with 19 points, many in transition as Penn State turned up the heat after halftime.

As a result, Penn State (26-5) advanced to the second round of the NCAA Women's Tournament and plays at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN2) when it takes on sixth-seeded LSU (21-11), a 75-71 winner Sunday over 11th-seeded University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Lucas went 4 for 8 from the field in each half and finished with four assists and a game-high four steals, and backcourt mate Alex Bentley scored 18 points.

Their bigger teammates made life rough for Big West champion Cal Poly (21-11).

Senior Mia Nickson had 13 points and a game-high 13 rebounds and wasn't whistled for a foul. Junior Talia East scored 12 points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked three shots. And senior Nikki Greene added 11 points and eight rebounds as they made Cal Poly's Molly Schlemer work harder than the 6-foot-5 junior ever imagined for her game-high 24 points, 12 in each half.

“It seemed like a little unfair of a fight,” joked 16th-year Cal Poly coach Faith Mimnaugh, who was taking the Mustangs to the first NCAA Women's Tournament in school history. She admitted there are no teams they faced with so much frontcourt depth.

This marks Penn State's third trip to the second round in as many years, making back-to-back NCAA trips to LSU's campus. The Lady Lions, who led by as many as 31 in the second half, trailed 17-16 with 7:45 to go before halftime before going on a defensive-fueled 10-1 run.

They led, 38-28, at halftime on a high-lofting, off-balance 3-pointer by Lucas. The junior guard had the ball on the left wing, waiting patiently for the clock to wind down, and then swished a rainbow at the buzzer.

“When I took it, I didn't think it was the best shot I could have gotten,” she said with a laugh, “but it went.”

The Lady Lions were giddy on their way to halftime.

“It might have given them a lift, but it was short-lived after I walked into the locker room,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “We talked about the other 19 minutes and 55 seconds of the half.

“Not sure it was a big lift, but Maggie's right, that we did a better job defensively in the second half in containing the ball and contesting shots and making them take tough shots. The first half we didn't do quite as good a job as we needed to, but the second half was better.”

Penn State, 30-23 all time in NCAA Women's Tournament games, including 15-3 in the first round, never led by fewer than 14 the final 14:59. The Lady Lions held a 52-40 rebounding advantage and held Cal Poly to 27.9 percent shooting.

Lee Feinswog is a freelance writer

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