Lions advance to Sweet 16 for first time in four years
Posted: Sunday March 19, 2000 05:59 PM
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Look at it through Rene Portland's eyes, and Penn State's 75-69 victory over Auburn in the second round of the NCAA tournament seemed almost inevitable.
"This really shows the growth of what these kids have been able to do," Penn State's coach said Sunday. "To go from nothing (in 1996) to the NIT (in 1997) to the second-round last year, and now to the regionals -- that's what they're supposed to do."
Lisa Shepherd had 19 points, including five 3-pointers in her second straight big NCAA tournament game, as No. 6 Penn State beat the 16th-ranked Tigers for the second time this season.
Shepherd felt much better about this game, and not just because the victory sends Penn State to the regional semifinals for the first time in four years. The last time out against Auburn, she went 0-7 from the field.
"I was in my shooting slump," she explained.
She's out of it now: Shepherd had 18 for the Lions in their first-round victory Friday over Youngstown State.
Maren Walseth added 17 and Andrea Garner and Helen Darling had 15 points each for the Lady Lions (28-4), who waved and hugged at center court as they improved to 15-0 at home. Penn State faces the winner of Illinois-Iowa State in the Midwest Regional semifinal in Kansas City on Saturday night.
Tasha Hamilton had 19 points and Lori Nero added 16 for Auburn (22-8), which lost in the second round for the third time in a row.
With Penn State clinging to a 64-62 lead with under two minutes to play, Auburn missed five straight shots.
The Lions' Walseth grabbed two misses, was fouled and made one of two shots. Then Andrea Garner was fouled with two seconds on the shot clock, and made both shots to put Penn State ahead 67-62 with a minute to play. The Lions went 8-of-8 from the line in the final minute to seal the victory.
The tight finish reminded Garner of the Big Ten final, when Purdue outlasted Penn State at the end.
"We did a great job of remaining calm, something we didn't do against Purdue," she said. "Today was the day we either showed it or didn't show it."
The Lions beat Auburn for but for the first time in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers had knocked Penn State out in 1996 and 1988.
The Tigers rallied from a six-point deficit midway through the second half. Working the ball around, they got a basket from each of the five players on the court during a 13-0 spurt to go ahead 54-47. Hamilton capped the run with a strong basket inside and screamed, high-stepping up the lane in celebration.
But with 12:26 to play, Hamilton picked up her fourth personal foul, and Auburn couldn't open a bigger lead.
"I thought emotionally, we just got a little to hot," Auburn coach Joe Ciampi said. "There were two critical fouls after that. We got a little too aggressive defensively."
"They never quit," Portland said. "There were times when it looked like it was going to get away from us, but it didn't."
The Tigers struggled all game with Penn State's half-court press and had 16 turnovers.
Penn State jumped to an 11-2 lead, then started hitting 3-pointers. Shepherd hit four and Chrissy Falcone added three more as the Lions went 7-of-11 from 3-point range in the first half. But Auburn shot 52 percent to stay within 40-37 at halftime.
Darling had nine assists for the Lions. Garner had 14 rebounds,
tying a career high.