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Lady Lions NCAA Tournament Blog: FINAL - #4 Penn State 85, UTEP 77

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BATON ROUGE, La. - Take a look back at the running blog from Penn State's 85-77 victory over UTEP in the NCAA Tournament first round on Sunday evening.

Welcome to the in-game blog for the Lady Lion basketball team in the postseason.

The Lady Lions are inside Maravich Assembly Center for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  Fourth-seeded Penn State (24-6) takes on 13th-seeded UTEP (29-3) on Sunday evening.  The Lady Lions have been in Louisiana since Thursday evening prepping for the game.

Preparations are complete.  It is time to play basketball in the postseason.  A spot in the round of 32 will be on the line when the Lions and Miners tip off.  Fifth-seeded LSU takes on 12th-seeded San Diego State in the second game of the doubleheader.  The two winners will meet on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET in Baton Rouge.

There is something special about the NCAA Tournament, and the Lady Lions are set to begin play in the dance.  Check back throughout the game for updates live from Baton Rouge.

Starting Lineups
Penn State: G - Bentley, G - Lucas, G - Gray, F - Nickson, C - Greene
UTEP: G - Smith, G - Willingham, G - Warren, F - Thornton, F - Steinberga

First Half:
15:42 - UTEP 8, Penn State 7
The tempo has been very quick in the opening minutes, which plays into Penn State's strengths.  UTEP has been red-hot from the floor in the opening minutes and leads by one.  The Lions will settle down as the game wears on and look to get the ball inside more.  Right now, Penn State is shooting 3-for-9, but the Lions are getting very good looks.  The pace is looking like we may be in for a very high scoring contest tonight.

11:11 - UTEP 19, Penn State 14
The story early is the shooting percentages of both teams.  UTEP is scoring at a 56 percent clip, while the Lady Lions are shooting just 33 percent in the opening 8:49.  The Miners' small lineup continues to give Penn State trouble on the defensive end of the floor.  Dribble penetration has been key to UTEP's offensive flow, and right now, the Lady Lions are having trouble stopping it.  Nonetheless, the score is just five points with a lot of basketball yet to play.

7:07 - Penn State 25, UTEP 24
Back-to-back baskets from Maggie Lucas, her first two of the game, has put the Lady Lions on top by one.  Penn State is currently on a 7-1 run to pull ahead, despite shooting just 38 percent from the field.  The Lions will continue to look inside on the offensive end of the floor.

0:00 - Penn State 39, UTEP 39
It was a very entertaining and fast-paced opening half of basketball in Baton Rouge.  The 13th-seeded Miners shot 53 percent from the field, while the Lions shot 39 percent.  Gray played a very good half for the Lady Lions, sinking 5-for-9 from the field for 12 points.  She scored seven of Penn State's last nine points in the half.  Alex Bentley added nine points.  The Miners were aggressive on the offensive end of the floor from start to finish in the opening 20 minutes, and it stemmed from attacking dribble penetration.  Penn State will need to be a better job containing the basketball in the second half.  Nonetheless, the Lions should feel good about a tie game after shooting under 40 percent from the field.

Second Half:
14:21 - Penn State 53, UTEP 45
The Lady Lions have quietly taken an eight-point lead, which is their largest of the game.  Lucas was 3-for-10 in the first half.  It has been a much different story in the second half, as the Lion sophomore is 3-for-4.  She drained a corner 3-pointer to make it an eight-point game before the Miners burned a timeout.  In addition to the offensive surge, Penn State is playing much better on-ball defense in the early stages of the second half.

11:37 - Penn State 59, UTEP 47
The Lady Lions took control of the ballgame with an 11-0 surge covering 2:51 on the scoreboard.  Lucas and Bentley accounted for nine of the 11 tallies, which put the Lions up by 14 points.  Lucas has been tremendous in the second half with 11 of her game-high 18 points and two key charges on the defensive end of the floor.  Penn State's lead is double digits, but there is a lot of basketball yet to play.

6:33 - Penn State 65, UTEP 58
While the offensive flow has improved for Penn State in the second half, the big difference has come on defense.  UTEP shot 52 percent in the first half.  The Lady Lions have limited the Miners to just 35 percent shooting in the second half.  However, the Lions led by 12 at the 10:44 mark.  Since then, UTEP has mounted a 7-2 scoring spurt to draw within seven.  The Penn State lead was just five before Bentley drained a jumper.  The Miners are not going to go away quietly.

0:00 - Penn State 85, UTEP 77
Penn State weathered every push UTEP mounted in the final minutes to earn a spot in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.  The Lady Lions made their last 14 free throws to put the victory on ice.  Lucas finished with 22 points to lead all scorers, while Bentley added 21 on a 7-for-14 shooting night.  Gray added 15 points and Greene scored 12 to give the Lions five players in double figures.  The Lions made 25 of their 31 free throw attempts on Sunday, which was a big stat against a very aggressive and quick Miners squad.

Final Thoughts:
The only stat that truly matters in March is a victory, and the Lady Lions weathered a strong effort from UTEP to earn a spot in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday evening in Baton Rouge.  Penn State and UTEP headed into the halftime break tied at 39-39, but the Lady Lions made it a point to play much better on-ball defense in the second half after the Miners shot 52 percent from the field.

From there, Penn State never trailed en route to an eight-point victory.  The Lady Lions mounted a crucial 11-0 scoring run mid-way through the second half to build a 14-point cushion.  From there, UTEP could get no closer than five.

Penn State's defensive improvement in the second half was evident on the final box score, as the Lady Lions limited UTEP to just 33 percent shooting over the final 20 minutes.  Lucas said after the game that the team knows it needs 40 minutes of solid effort in the next round of the NCAA Tournament, no matter who is on the other side of the bracket.  With that being said, the Lions will return to the Maravich Center for practice on Monday morning before preparing for Tuesday night's second-round game.

Follow Media Specialist Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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