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March 18, 2012
BATON ROUGE, La. - The No. 4 seed Penn State Lady Lions (25-6, 13-3) advanced to the NCAA Second Round with a 85-77 victory against No. 13 seed UTEP (29-4, 15-1 C-USA) Sunday evening. With the win, Penn State posts back-to-back 25-win seasons for the first time since 2002-03 and 2003-04.The Lady Lions will now face No. 5 seed LSU in the Second Round Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. (ET).
The victory came with a balanced attack that saw four players reach double figures, led by Maggie Lucas' (Narberth, Pa.) 23 points. It is the 17th 20-point performance of the season for Lucas.
The Lady Lions advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight year. Penn State is now 14-3 in NCAA First Round action and 28-22 overall in tournament play.
Junior Alex Bentley (Indianapolis, Ind.) had a solid all-around game with 21 points to go with five assists and three steals. Bentley reached the 20-point plateau for the ninth time this season. She has also scored at least 20 points in each of her three career NCAA Tournament games. Senior Zhaque Gray (Chicago, Ill.) also recorded double-digits with 15 points, while junior Nikki Greene (Diboll, Texas) narrowly missed a double-double with 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
The Miners wasted no time taking the lead to start the game going up by four (6-2) after less than three minutes. Bentley scored a three to close the gap to one (6-5), but a layup by UTEP had the Miners leading by three (8-5). Gray scored for the Lady Lions to bring PSU within one (8-7), but UTEP continued to maintain control. A jumper and a trey by the Miners gave UTEP its largest lead to that point, 13-7, at the 14:29 mark.
Gray nailed a three, but UTEP answered with a jumper to stay ahead by five (15-10). UTEP's Melisa Mendes fouled Bentley who hit two at the foul line to bring PSU back within three (15-12). The Lady Lions continued to trail, but never let UTEP's advantage grow to more than five points. With less than 10 minutes to go and UTEP leading, 23-18, sophomore Ariel Edwards (Elmont, N.Y.) had a three-pointer bringing Penn State within two (23-21).
Despite a free throw by UTEP's Jenzel Nash, back-to-back jumpers by Lucas gave Penn State its first lead of the half, 25-24, with 7:29 left to play. A UTEP basket and a successful two-shot trip to the foul line put the Miners back in the lead, 28-25. A layup by Bentley had the Lions within one (28-27), but two straight three-pointers by UTEP had Penn State trailing by its largest margin, 34-27.
Penn State embarked on a 12-2 run giving the Lady Lions a three-point edge (39-36) with 2:01 remaining in the half. A free throw from Kristine Vitola of UTEP had the Miners behind by a basket, 39-37. Nash scored on a jumper with 24 second remaining knotting the score at 39-39 to end the half.
The second half was all Penn State as the Lions took off on a 15-6 run for a 53-45 lead. UTEP called a timeout, but it failed to slow the Lady Lions as four points from Bentley and two from Lucas had Penn State up by game-high 14 points (59-45) with 12:46 left in the game. After a second Miner timeout, UTEP scored four points off a jumper and a trip to the foul line as the Lady Lions missed two baskets. Penn State held on to a double-digit lead, 59-49.
Bentley got Penn State back on track with a jumper before junior Mia Nickson (Ashburn, Va.) hit both shots at the foul line to move the Lions back ahead by 12 (63-51) with 10:44 to play.
Penn State called a timeout at the 9:22 mark and UTEP went on to score the next seven points to narrow the gap to five (63-58). Baskets by Bentley and Greene gave Penn State a nine-point cushion (67-58). During the next three minutes, Penn State made four trips to the foul line tallying seven points to move back ahead by double-digits, 74-63.
UTEP used a 6-2 run to come within seven (76-69) with 2:21 on the clock. However, two successful shots by Greene at the foul line and three points from junior Marisa Wolfe (Ford City, Pa.) had Penn State ahead by 11 (81-70) with a little more than a minute to play in the game. Lucas made two trips to the free throw line sinking all four shots to have Penn State with an 85-75 lead with 38 seconds remaining. UTEP's Syerra Davis scored one final basket for the Miners before time ran out.
GAME NOTES: The Lady Lions improve to 14-3 all-time in NCAA Tournament First Round games ... Penn State earns back-to-back 25-win seasons for the first time since the 2002-03 and 2003-04 campaigns ... Maggie Lucas had her consecutive free throws made streak stopped at 23 when she missed at the 5:13 mark of the second half. It ties her career high for consecutive free throws made, set earlier this year ... The Lady Lions made 14 free throws in a row from the 5:13 mark until the 0:16 mark to seal the win ... Lucas moved into 27th place on Penn State's career scoring charts (1,149) ... Lucas also moved into a tie for sixth place on Penn State's single-season scoring list (597). She is tied with Tyra Grant's performance during the 2009-10 season ... Junior Alex Bentley surpassed the 1,300-point mark for her career (1,317) ... Sophomore Ariel Edwards returned after missing four games with a leg injury to tally seven points and four rebounds ... Junior Mia Nickson surpassed the 400-rebound mark for her Penn State career.
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