Commentary

Short-handed LSU advances

With the roster shortened to just seven players, Lady Tigers advance to Sweet 16

Updated: March 27, 2013, 2:58 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's Adrienne Webb and Jeanne Kenney occupied the same space at the same time near the end of Sunday's first-round victory over Green Bay. Bam! They collided on an inbounds play. Webb was no worse for wear, but Kenney definitely was.

Kenney -- the junior point guard and Baton Rouge native who is the vocal, heart-and-soul type -- had a concussion. She not only couldn't play in Tuesday's second-round matchup with Penn State, she wasn't even at the Maravich Center.

Just as well, because the building got pretty noisy and crazy -- not the place to be when you have an aching head. Instead, Kenney watched at home. Thanks in large part to Webb, though, Kenney will still have another chance to put on an LSU uniform this season.

[+] EnlargeLSU/Penn State
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsAdrienne Webb scored a career-high 29 points to help LSU eliminate Alex Bentley and Penn State.

That's because the short-handed Lady Tigers upset Penn State 71-66, behind the senior guard Webb's career-high 29 points. LSU was down to seven available players. But that was enough.

"All seven of us came together and played for our fans … and we also played for Jeanne," Webb said. "Jeanne has really been a leader for us on the court. I wanted to see her play one more game. I wanted to play in Spokane and have Jeanne Kenney out on the floor with me."

Whether Kenney will be cleared for Saturday's game remains to be seen. But LSU will indeed be playing in the Spokane Regional, heading west to face No. 2 seed Cal. The No. 6 seed Lady Tigers' win Tuesday completed the misery of the No. 3 seeds in this year's NCAA women's tournament. All of them were eliminated in the second round, probably none more painfully than Penn State.

For the second year in a row, Penn State was shipped to Baton Rouge for the early rounds. Last year, the Lady Lions -- as a No. 4 seed -- prevailed over then-No. 5 LSU. This time, LSU reversed the outcome.

The Lady Tigers deserve applause; they battled their tails off in this game. All seven of them. But Penn State deserves some sympathy, having to play at LSU two years in a row when the Lady Lions were the better seed.

That's the nature of the women's tournament with pre-determined sites. And it doesn't always go in the home team's favor. But the Maravich Center crowd contributed to this LSU victory. With a late start on a week night, there were 3,055 on hand. But they made up for it with enthusiasm, sounding as loud as twice that many.

The LSU fans had particularly gutsy efforts from their seniors to cheer for Tuesday.

"I was proud of our two seniors for stepping up and making the plays down the stretch," LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. "That's what your seniors are supposed to do, and that's exactly what they did."

I was proud of our two seniors for stepping up and making the plays down the stretch.

-- LSU coach Nikki Caldwell

Bianca Lutley had 18 points and six assists, plus she played nearly the last 12 minutes of the game with four fouls. No small thing considering Caldwell had only two players to sub in off the bench. Caldwell joked she was considering putting herself into the game.

Lutley's fellow senior Webb not only led the way offensively, but she was the primary defender against Penn State top scorer Maggie Lucas. The guard torched LSU in the NCAA tournament last year with 30 points. She entered Tuesday's game averaging 20.5 points this season, but had just nine on 2-of-10 shooting against LSU.

"That's basketball," Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. "That's the way it goes some nights."

This wasn't just some night for the Lady Lions, though. This one was really hard: Five seniors were playing what ended up being their last game for Penn State. The Lady Lions won the Big Ten regular-season title for the second season in a row, and in Washington's sixth year at State College, the program has re-established itself as a national contender.

"We had hopes we'd be able to advance in this tournament for them," Washington said of her seniors. "It won't happen this year, but we will certainly carry their spirit with us into the future.

"They got the ball rolling. Now it's up to their teammates who are coming back, and their future 'teammates' who are still in high school right now, to take what they started and push it further, higher, deeper, stronger."

But while one set of seniors was crushed, another set was both euphoric and relieved.

The Lady Tigers don't know if Kenney will be able to play Saturday, but they at least gave her the chance. And in their last home game, the seniors performed like champions.

"I'm sure she was screaming and yelling -- and probably shouldn't be," Caldwell said of Kenney having to watch the game on television. "We really have taken the necessary steps to make sure that she stays calm and not get herself too aroused. But how can you not be in a game like this?

"I know that she is extremely proud of her teammates for the way they played. They miss her, and we miss her on the bench. But Jeanne has left her print on this team, and they carry her with them in everything they do."

And that spirit helped carry LSU to the Sweet 16.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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