March 25, 2004
From the Associated Press
GAME: No. 5 Notre Dame (21-10) vs. No. 1 Penn State (27-5).
REGIONAL: East, Semifinals.
TIME: Saturday, Noon EST.
SITE: The Hartford Civic Center; Hartford, Conn.
Kelly Mazzante knows she can rely on her teammates when her shot is not falling.
As top-seeded Penn State gets set for the regional semifinals, however, she also realizes how important it is to regain her touch. Mazzante will try to return to her usual form when the Lady Lions meet fifth-seeded Notre Dame.
After scoring 18 points in a first-round victory over Hampton, Mazzante struggled against Virginia Tech in a 61-48 win Tuesday. The first team All-America selection missed nine of her first 10 shots and finished with nine points on 4-of-16 shooting.
Like most opponents, the Hokies focused their defensive efforts on Mazzante. The senior guard, however, will welcome similar treatment from Notre Dame.
“If they zero in on me, they’re going to get killed by someone else,” Mazzante said.
Junior guards Tanisha Wright and Jess Strom did that honor Tuesday. With Virginia Tech preoccupied with shutting down Mazzante, Wright scored a game-high 28 points, and Strom added 17 to help the Lady Lions advance to the round of 16 for the third consecutive season.
“We just needed someone to step up at times,” said Wright, who scored 26 of Penn State’s first 36 points. “I’m always looking for my shot and it just happened tonight that it was going in.”
The threat posed by Wright and Strom is not lost on Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw.
“All four of their starters are capable of having big nights, so you really can’t concentrate on one player,” McGraw said.
McGraw was pleased with the way the Irish played in their 59-46 victory over Middle Tennessee State in the second round. She’s hoping for a similar performance in Hartford.
“I feel really good about where we are right now, especially considering when you consider halfway through the year we were 7-6 and wondering if we were even going to be in the tournament,” McGraw said. “This is where we expected to be. We’re kind of like down to business, ready to go.”
Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast tied her career high with 27 points against Middle Tennessee State as Notre Dame reached the regional semifinals for the sixth time in eight seasons.
“A lot of people think we go as Jackie goes. But you’ve got to have your point guard taking care of the ball,” McGraw said. “If we start out sloppy it’s because the guards aren’t taking care of the ball, and that is a big concern.”
Penn State has won its three previous meetings with Notre Dame.
The winner of Saturday’s game will meet either second-seeded Connecticut or No. 11 UC Santa Barbara in the regional final Monday.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Notre Dame – F Batteast (15.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg), F Courtney LaVere (8.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G Le’Tania Severe (7.2 ppg, 3.9 apg), G Megan Duffy (10.3 ppg, 4.0 apg), G Monique Hernandez (3.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg). Penn State – F Jess Brungo (9.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg), F Reicina Russell (4.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg), G Mazzante (20.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg), G Strom (11.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg), G Wright (15.0 ppg, 4.2 apg).
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Notre Dame – At-large berth; beat Southwest Missouri State 69-65, OT, first round; beat Middle Tennessee State 59-46, second round. Penn State – At-large berth; beat Hampton 79-42, first round; beat Virginia Tech 61-48, second round.
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Notre Dame – 21-9, 11 years. Penn State – 25-19, 20 years.