Jerry Fisher: Lady Lions Start NCAA Tournament Push
WHO: No. 4 Penn State (24-6, 13-3 Big Ten) vs. No. 13 UTEP (29-3, 15-1 Conference USA)
WHEN: 5:15 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Baton Rouge, La.
RADIO: ESPN 1450 am
BATON ROUGE, La. — The Penn State Lady Lions basketball team has advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season after enduring some difficult times during the final few years of the Rene Portland era and the first three years under coach Coquese Washington.
The Lady Lions have earned the No. 4 seed in the Kingston Region and have now traveled to Baton Rouge, La., for a first-round matchup at 5:15 Sunday evening against UTEP, the No. 13 seed. The other first-round game will feature the host team of the rounds, LSU, the No. 5 seed, taking on San Diego State, the No. 12 seed. The two winners will square off on Tuesday night here in Baton Rouge.
As I sit in my hotel room, after having spent some time around the pool in the 85 degree weather, I think back on this season and some things that come to mind about this version of the Lady Lions.
The first is the mentality Washington. USA Today had an article Friday that had the head coach of St. John’s complaining about her team being sent on the road to Norman, Okla., where if it wins their first-round game will most likely face the host Sooners on its home floor for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.
I mentioned the article to Coquese during breakfast earlier and was curious as to what her thoughts are. I was not surprised when she mentioned that the women's game is what it is, and complaining about anything like that does no good.
She said if I would have told her that Penn State’s Big Ten record at home would be worse than its Big Ten record on the road, she would have laughed. Coquese has always been one to preach to her players that it’s one game at a time, take care of the business in front of you, then maybe look ahead to the next game. She was calm in her responses and you could tell she deeply believed everything she was saying.
I will be deeply surprised if this team does not enter its game Sunday very focused, very aware of what it has to do this weekend and very surprised if it is not successful on Tuesday evening against the host Tigers, should Penn State advance to that game.
The team has been enjoying the trip since arriving Thursday night, enjoying the local fare upon arrival and then relaxing after the flight.
Friday was relatively the same as other trips in which the team got up, ate breakfast as a group, watched tape of UTEP so it would have an idea of personnel tendancies, kinds of plays it runs and also what kind of athletes it has.
After film, we departed for the Pete Maravich Athletic center for a solid two-hour practice, then off to a day trip to New Orleans. The team and followers enjoyed many of the sights, sounds and pleasures of the beautiful city before heading home for another evening of relaxation.
Saturday was a typical day before a game, with routines much the same as the previous day but perhaps more intensity, more focus and more determination in the way things are done throughout the day. Sunday, a morning shoot-around, a pregame meal three-and-a-half hours before tipoff, relax for a bit and board the bus for the arena 90 minutes prior to tip off.
It's Just a little idea of what a trip like this one to the NCAA Tournament is for the Lady Lions, and if they are successful this weekend, it's off to Kingston, R.I., for a date most likely against the No. 1 seed in the region, the Huskies of Connecticut.
After many conversations with coaches and players, no one in this contingent feels there will be anything less than success in this NCAA run for a fun, incredible groups of ladies and all of those that have followed them through the good times and the not so good times.
Get to Know UTEP:
Gloria Brown leads the Miners in scoring at 11.9 points per game. She also leads the team in rebounding (8.8) and blocks (2.9).
Kayla Thornton scores 9.7 points per outing and pulls in 7.2 rebounds per game.
The Lady Lions last played UTEP on Nov. 18, 1983 and posted a 97-67 win in the Wyoming Dial Classic Championship game in Laramie, Wyo.
Lorraine McGirt led Penn State with 17 points, while Vanessa Paynter pulled down 11 rebounds.