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Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- When Tanisha Wright arrived at Penn State three years ago, she had a reputation for defense and a penchant for driving to the basket.

Coach Rene Portland knew Wright could go from being just a good player to a great one if she developed a well-rounded offensive game.

Wright has done that so well that Portland now calls her the most improved player she has ever coached.

"I think last night it was obvious she showed a lot of how she has expanded her game,'' Portland said Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, Wright scored a career-high 28 points in a 61-48 victory at Virginia Tech in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

"She could take a drive, she obviously could play some defense for us and she's the best in the league,'' Portland said. "But when people were backing off, she could pull up and take that little jumper.

"You saw her post up and back somebody down last night. It's nice to see that it's all rounded out right now.''

Wright first broke out as an offensive threat as a freshman, averaging 21 points in three games before the Lady Lions were eliminated by Connecticut in the regional semifinals. She struggled in the tournament last year, but had 16 points and 10 rebounds against Hampton in the first round this year.

That's the kind of variety Penn State (27-5) will need Saturday (noon ET, ESPN), when it faces Notre Dame (21-10) in the East Regional semifinals at Hartford, Conn. The Fighting Irish are known for their stingy zone defense, and Penn State will need Wright's versatility to break it down.

"She was awesome,'' teammate Jess Brungo said of Wright. "She was incredible in the first half and she really carried us. She just put us on her back.''

This current run couldn't have come at a better time. All-American Kelly Mazzante continues to struggle through a shooting slump that has plagued the last third of her season.

The Lady Lions hope to advance beyond the regional semifinals, where they've been stopped in each of the past two seasons. Although Mazzante is still the team's main offensive threat, Portland said Wright and point guard Jess Strom -- who scored 17 against Virginia Tech -- could be the keys to a better run this year.

"If you go back to that Connecticut game a couple of years ago, (Strom) was unbelievable,'' Portland said. "If you go to that Tennessee game last year, Jess Strom was the only one who came to play that night. I think last night, Jess Strom was an X-factor in the game, too.''

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