KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Ticker) -- Penn State coach Rene Portland ended 24 years of frustration and started Leon Barmore's retirement earlier than most had figured.
No. 2 seed Penn State took control midway through the first half and did not look back, gaining the first Final Four berth in school history with a stunning 86-65 victory over top-seeded Louisiana Tech in the Midwest Region final.
Penn State (30-4) avenged a 17-point loss to Louisiana Tech in the second round of last season's NCAA Tournament and reached 30 victories for the first time in school history. The Lady Lions, who went 29-2 in 1990-91, will face Connecticut in the national semifinals Friday in Philadelphia.
In her 24th season as coach and 20th at Penn State, Portland improved to 553-184 all-time and earned her first trip to the Final Four after falling in the regional finals twice. The Lady Lions were defeated by Old Dominion in 1983 and Alabama in 1994.
The loss ends a spectacular run for Barmore, who announced he will retire as the Lady Techsters coach effective July 1. He guided Louisiana Tech to nine Final Fours, including the last two, and finishes 520-77 in 18 seasons.
Lisa Shepherd buried three 3-pointers and scored 13 points during a 26-9 run over the final 12 minutes as the Lady Lions opened a 45-29 lead. Shepherd finished with 20 points in the opening half to help snap Louisiana Tech's 21-game winning streak.
The Lady Lions shot 52 percent (15-of-29) and hit 5-of-8 3-pointers in the first half while holding the Lady Techsters to just 31 percent (11-of-35) and 5-of-15 from beyond the arc. Penn State shot 10-of-13 from the line in the opening 20 minutes and Louisiana Tech was 2-of-3.
Penn State used a 12-3 burst to open its biggest lead, 57-32, with 16:47 to play. Maren Walseth hit consecutive baskets to close the run in which Shepherd and Chrissy Falcone each nailed 3-pointers.
Point guard Helen Darling had 15 points and a Midwest Region-record 12 assists for Penn State, which has won 14 of its last 15 contests. Fellow senior Andrea Garner had 15 points and 12 rebounds and Walseth added 13 and 10 as the Lady Lions outrebounded Louisiana Tech, 51-39.
The win continues a long journey for Darling and Garner, who were a part of the 1996-97 team as freshmen that finished 15-12 and did not play in the postseason. The Lady Lions captured the Women's National Invitation Tournament the following season.
Penn State shot 48 percent (31-of-64) overall, 7-of-13 from 3-point range and was 17-of-20 from the line.
Tamicha Jackson scored 19 points and Betty Lennox added 14 for the Lady Techsters, who won a national title under Barmore in 1988. They hit just 33 percent (25-of-77) from the field and fell to 10-5 in the regional finals.