CHARLOTTESVILLE, JAN. 3 -- The No. 1 ranking of the Virginia women's basketball team disappeared in a sea of controversy tonight, as Penn State's Shelly Caplinger hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions a 73-71 victory over the Cavaliers before 4,850 at University Hall.

After the Cavaliers -- who rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit -- took a 71-70 lead on Heather Burge's layin with four seconds left, the Nittany Lions inbounded from under Virginia's basket. Tanya Garner drove past midcourt, and when Cavaliers guard Tammi Reiss came off Caplinger for the double team, Garner fed Caplinger, who made the shot as the buzzer sounded.

Official Tom Salerno -- standing under the basket -- initially waved off the basket. But trailing official Ralph South -- who was responsible for the call -- signaled the basket good. The resulting confusion led to the odd sight of both teams celebrating.

Although it appeared the shot was launched after the buzzer, women's basketball rules state that a player must only be in the act of shooting when the buzzer sounds.

"I thought it was a good call," Virginia Coach Debbie Ryan said. "I've seen it on tape and it was a hell of a shot. She catches it and releases it in almost the same motion. . . . If there's anything that's a problem, it would have been our own clock operator."

"The games are ruled by the referees and he said it was good," Penn State Coach Rene Portland said.

For her part, Caplinger said she was unconcerned with the legality of her shot. "I was just supposed to get open," she said. "I'm a shooter, so I'm supposed to shoot."

The controversy surrounding the finish overshadowed what was a thrilling second half. The Nittany Lions (9-0) extended a seven-point halftime lead to 57-41 on Garner's layin with 9:53 left, and they seemed en route to an easy win.

But after 30 minutes of mediocre-at-best play, the Cavaliers (11-1) finally came alive. Reiss capped a 14-4 run with a three-pointer that cut the deficit to 61-55 with 5:40 left.

"It's gratifying to know we're a great team that's able to come back," Reiss said. "But on the other end, it's very painful, with four seconds left, to lose the game. But at least we had the dignity and pride to come back." PENN STATE (73)

Robinson 8-12 2-3 18, Dougherty 5-10 3-6 14, Phillips 9-12 0-0 18, Eikenburg 2-5 1-2 5, Garner 1-6 1-4 3, Caplinger 3-5 0-0 7, Holloway 3-5 0-2 6, Kretchmar 0-0 0-4 0, Henry 1-2 0-0 2, Williams 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 32-58 7-21 73. VIRGINIA (71)

Wagener 1-3 0-0 2, Cardoza 5-9 2-5 12, Hea. Burge 10-18 2-5 22, Staley 3-10 1-2 7, Reiss 4-15 4-4 14, Evans 2-4 0-0 4, Hei. Burge 2-4 3-4 7, Ward 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 28-65 13-22 71.

Halftime: Penn State, 33-26.

Three-point goals: Penn State 2-6 (Dougherty 1-1, Eikenburg 0-2, Garner 0-1, Caplinger 1-1); UVA 2-10 (Cordoza 0-2, Staley 0-2, Reiss 2-5, Evans 0-1). Assists: Penn State 14 (Garner 5); UVA 16 (Staley 7). Steals: Penn State 10 (Eikenburg 4): UVA 13 (Staley 4). Rebounds: Penn State 44 (Phillips 12); UVA 34 (Hea. Burge 9). Total fouls: Penn State 18, UVA 18.

A -- 4,850.

G. Washington 79, R. Island 50

In Kingston, R.I., sophomore Jennifer Shasky scored a game-high 23 points in leading to lead the Colonial Women in the Atlantic 10 opener for both teams.

The Colonials (7-2), who held Rhode Island (4-6) to just 27 percent shooting, have won three straight and five of six.

For George Washington, Anne Riley scored 16 points and Mary Nordling 15. Kristin McArdle had 13 points and 11 rebounds for her third double-double this season.