HARTFORD, Conn. Penn State relied on Kelly Mazzante's offense throughout the season. On Saturday, the Lady Lions needed her defense, too.
Mazzante hit a floating jumper with 46 seconds left and made a key steal down the stretch to lead the top-seeded Lady Lions to a 55-49 win over Notre Dame in the East Regional semifinal.
Mazzante finished with 17 points and a team-high three steals one to open the game, one that led to an easy basket and one that helped seal the win.
''We needed a defensive stop. We didn't do that for 38 minutes,'' Penn State coach Rene Portland said. ''We did that for the last two minutes and it made the difference.''
The Lady Lions (28-5) and Mazzante struggled offensively against Notre Dame's stubborn zone but made the big shots and big plays when they needed it most.
Jessica Brungo led Penn State with 20 points in a game in which neither team led by more than six points.
''We didn't attack (the zone) enough and they kept pushing us back further and further past the 3-point,'' Mazzante said. ''I think we made some adjustments at halftime and we started going in the right direction.''
Penn State will play second-seeded Connecticut on Monday for a berth in the Final Four.
Jacqueline Batteast led the fifth-seeded Fighting Irish (21-11) with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Her layup with 1:50 left tied the game at 49.
Mazzante hit the go-ahead basket on the next possession and got right back on defense. She leaped high to steal a pass intended for Batteast with 35 seconds left, and Penn State was in control the rest of the way. Tanisha Wright made a key offensive rebound and the Lady Lions made shot 4-for-6 from the line to seal the win.
The Irish, who at one point this season had a record of 7-6, missed a pair of 3-pointers in the closing seconds.
The Lady Lions got a scare early in the second half when center Reicina Russell went down with a knee injury and had to be helped from the court. The 6-foot-6 freshman returned about four minutes later to an ovation and finished with 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Mazzante, who shot 6-for-16, also grabbed eight rebounds. She opened the game by taking the ball away from a driving Le'Tania Severe and made an easy layup. Her second pick came after a bucket by Brungo, when she stole the inbounds pass for another easy layup.
''I just decided to stick around and see if I could get one of those easy ones,'' Mazzante said. ''Batteast threw it right to me. I was just in the right place.''
Portland said Mazzante began calling for the ball late in the game, something the All-American senior rarely does.
''That's something that she's maybe done twice,'' Portland said. ''The last time I didn't listen to her was in the Big 10 tournament. I thought she was in a nice flow. You could just tell things were special for her.''
Penn State struggled with its shooting midway through the first half and the Irish capitalized. Trailing 13-7, Notre Dame went on a 9-0 run, fueled by two free throws and a breakaway layup from Jenecka Joyce to go up 16-13 with 8:26 left.
During that same stretch the Lady Lions missed 11 straight shots and committed two turnovers, their only offense came from Mazzante's two free throws.
The Lady Lions ended the drought with consecutive 3-pointers from Mazzante and Brungo to take a 21-20 lead with 2:54 left. Notre Dame countered with a floater from Severe with 50 seconds to play and got the ball right back on a Penn State turnover.
Connecticut 63, UC Santa Barbara 55
HARTFORD, Conn. Diana Taurasi scored 21 points and Connecticut survived a sloppy game offensively.
UConn (28-4), winner of the last two national championships and three of the last four, is just one victory from a record fifth straight trip to the Final Four.
Barbara Turner added 13 points for UConn, while Jessica Moore had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
April McDivitt, who played her first three seasons at Tennessee, led 11th-seeded Santa Barbara (27-7) with 20 points.
LSU 71, Texas 55
SEATTLE Seimone Augustus scored 29 points on 14-of-19 shooting, leading fourth-seeded LSU past top-seeded Texas in the West Regional semifinals.
Tameka Johnson added 12 points and 13 assists to help the Lady Tigers (26-7) advance to face third-seeded Georgia in an all-Southeastern Conference regional final Monday night.
Jamie Carey scored 17 points for the Longhorns (30-5), who beat LSU 78-60 last year to reach the Final Four.
Georgia 66, Purdue 64
SEATTLE Alexis Kendrick made her shot. Erika Valek missed hers.
Kendrick swished a jumper with 5.4 seconds to play, lifting Georgia to a 66-64 victory over Purdue in the West Regional semifinals Saturday night.
''My shots weren't going in throughout the game, but I said, 'What the heck?' and I put it up,'' Kendrick said.
''She made something out of nothing on the baseline,'' Bulldogs coach Andy Landers said.
Kendrick's basket capped a dramatic second half, but it wasn't over until Valek, the Purdue point guard, slipped past a screen and missed an open layup at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
''I just wanted to attack and try to get a basket,'' Valek said. ''It was wide open. It just slipped. I don't know. It just didn't go in.''
Janese Hardrick scored 17 points to help third-seeded Georgia (25-9) advance to the regional final Monday night. It will be an all-Southeastern Conference matchup against LSU (26-7), which beat top-seeded Texas 71-55.
''Playing in the SEC allowed a lot of our younger players to grow up,'' said Georgia's Christi Thomas, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds. ''Our freshmen don't play like freshmen.''
It was a heartbreaking end to a strong season for second-seeded Purdue (29-4), leaving Valek in tears as her teammates tried to console her on the floor. Nearby, Hardrick locked up a long hug with teammate Ebony Felder.
''We're all hurting pretty bad right now, so I don't really have much to say,'' Boilermakers coach Kristy Curry said.
''It was so close,'' Valek said. ''I'd rather lose by 10 than lose on a last-second shot like that. We were so close to the overtime that we could taste it.''
The Boilermakers seemed to have things locked up after Hardrick was whistled for a technical foul for slapping the ball before it came in on a Purdue inbounds play. Landers said he had just challenged Hardrick to be more aggressive.
''We were too hard on her. She was a little lackadaisical and I think I got her a little too wound up,'' he said.
Valek hit the free throws to put Purdue up 64-61 with 1:53 to go. It could have been a four-point swing, but Shereka Wright missed a shot after the Boilermakers retained possession.
''We were very confident,'' said Wright, who led Purdue with 13 points. ''We only needed one more stop on defense.''
The Bulldogs didn't panic.
Hardrick made up for the technical call by hitting a jumper to pull Georgia to 64-61. After Purdue's Lindsey Hicks put up an air ball at the other end, Hardrick hit a huge 3-pointer to tie it with 41 seconds on the clock.
On the Boilermakers' possession, Wright dropped to the floor as she split two defenders. Her shot missed and no foul was called, setting up Kendrick's jumper at the other end.
Purdue inbounded to Valek, who sped past Georgia's defenders and headed straight for the basket. She had an open lane to the hoop, but the ball sailed over the rim and bounced harmlessly off the glass as the horn sounded.
''She's a great player,'' Hardrick said. ''Sometimes when you get so wide open, you just miss. I guess that's what it was.''
The Bulldogs led 43-34 at halftime, aided by 12 points from Thomas and a 10-0 advantage on second-chance points. Georgia had eight offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
Purdue rallied, using a 22-10 run over the first 10 minutes of the second half to tie it at 53 when Valek dribbled through two defenders and hit a jumper. The Boilermakers led 56-53 after Hicks made a 3-pointer seconds later.
''We had a brain cramp,'' Georgia coach Andy Landers said. ''We didn't get our press offense set. We were mishandling balls and turning balls over, which obviously isn't good.''
There were three ties and four lead changes in the final 10 minutes.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.