Lady Lions return to Louisiana as 3 seed

UNIVERSITY PARK – The Penn State women’s basketball team is going back to Baton Rouge, La.

The Lady Lions found out Monday that they would start the NCAA tournament in the same place as last season, Louisiana State’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Penn State (25-5), the No. 3 seed in the Spokane Region, will play 14th-seeded Cal Poly (21-10) in a first-round game at 5:15 p.m. Sunday. The game will broadcast on ESPN2.

“We had a good showing down there last year,” said Penn State coach Coquese Washington after the Lady Lions watched ESPN’s tournament selection show in the Founder’s Room at the Bryce Jordan Center. “LSU is a great place to play. I love the fans. It’s a great NCAA tournament atmosphere. So, we’re looking forward to going back.”

Penn State is making its third consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament and 24th overall. The No. 3 seed is its highest since 2004, when the Lady Lions were the top seed in the East Region. That year, they advanced to the Regional final before losing to Connecticut.

Last season, the Lady Lions were the fourth seed in the Kingston Region and won two games in Baton Rouge, beating Texas at El Paso and LSU before losing to UConn in the Regional semifinals.

A possible rematch with LSU on its home court looms. With a victory Sunday, the Lady Lions would advance to play the winner of the Tigers-Green Bay game in the second round Tuesday. Looking ahead, Stanford and California out of the Pac-12 Conference are the top two seeds in the Spokane Region and possible opponents for Penn State.

“Being [in Louisiana] last year, it was a really good environment, hostile in a way because it was a home-court advantage for LSU,” Nikki Greene said. “That fact that we’re going back, we’re excited.”

While a return trip was a surprise for the Lady Lions, so was their seeding. Penn State, which is ranked No. 8 in the current Associated Press rankings, was projected as a No. 2 seed by ESPN’s bracketology after finishing 14-2 in the Big Ten Conference and winning its second straight regular-season title.

“It was really close,” Washington said. “Once you got past the top four or five [overall] seeds, you can make an argument either way for a three seed, two seed. To me, it doesn’t make much a difference between a two seed or three seed. If both teams advance, you play each other anyway. We’ll take it.”

“We thought we were going to be a two or a three,” added Maggie Lucas. “It is what it is. You still have to win six games to get to the championship. That doesn’t change. We’re ready to focus on ourselves.”

First up for Penn State is a matchup with Cal Poly, the Big West Conference tournament champion, which is making its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Lady Lions, who are 14-3 all-time in first-round games, are playing the Mustangs for the first time.

Penn State, which won 17 of 18 games from mid-December to late February, has faltered somewhat down the stretch. The Lady Lions have lost two of their past four games, including a 54-46 defeat to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals March 9.

Greene said the Lady Lions have since worked on “fine tuning” their game.

“Of course, we had a slip in the Big Ten tournament,” she said. “We went back to the gym, worked more on our defense and corrected some stuff on offense that will help us throughout the tournament.”

Washington said she was happy with her team’s attitude heading into the NCAA tournament.

“We said all along that we wanted to come into March playing good basketball and I like the way we’re playing,” Washington said. “I like the way that our confidence is. I know they’re excited to go out there and give the NCAA tournament another run.”