Penn State a confident top seed in Baton Rouge
When Penn State coach Coquese Washington and the Lady Lions
learned they’d be heading back to south Louisiana for a second
straight NCAA tournament, they weren’t upset about having to hit
Penn State is once again the highest seed at a site far from
home, but they happen to like playing in Baton Rouge.
”It was fun playing here last year because the crowd was into
the game. They’re knowledgeable fans. They showed up for all the
games. It’s just a great environment,” Washington said. ”When we
saw the bracket come out, we’re like, `Cool, we’ll go back to the
South and the 80-degree weather and great fans.’ We were
Any sense of deja-vu for Washington and Penn State veteran
leaders Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas is a source of comfort.
One year ago, Penn State invaded the Pete Maravich Assembly
Center as a No. 4 seed and advanced to the regional finals after
victories over UTEP in the opening round and LSU in the second.
”It’s nice that we’re familiar with the area. It’s fun to come
back and play here,” Bentley said. ”I loved playing here last
This season, the third-seeded Lady Lions (25-5) open Sunday
evening against No. 14 seed Cal Poly (21-10), and the winner of
that game plays the winner of Sunday night’s second game between
sixth-seeded LSU (20-11) and No. 11-seed Green Bay (29-2).
Despite a hiccup in the Big Ten tournament championship, when
Penn State shot only 22.4 percent and fell by eight to Michigan
State, the Lady Lions appear stronger this season than last.
It helps that Bentley and Lucas, their two best players last
year, are back and playing well.
Lucas, a junior and the Big Ten player of the year, has averaged
a career best 20.5 points per game, hitting a career-high 44.4
percent of her shots, including 47.5 percent from 3-point
”Lucas is an excellent player – really, really good shooter,
quick shot, green light on whatever,” Cal Poly guard Caroline
Reeves said. ”There’s going to have to be a lot of pressure on
her, a lot of trying to get her into her second looks, maybe not
her primary options, a lot of help on her from other
Bentley is averaging 14 points per game, and fellow senior Nikki
Greene, Penn State’s 6-foot-4 senior, pitches in nearly 9 points
and 8 rebounds per contest on average, but is capable of more when
she avoids foul trouble.
Experience is another factor. This is the first Cal Poly team
ever to make an NCAA women’s tournament, which the Mustangs did by
winning Big West Conference.
”It’s a dream come true for all of us. We’re enjoying every
moment of it,” Cal Poly center Molly Schlemer said. ”It’s a crazy
opportunity that we have worked for. It’s surreal and hard to get
used to because Cal Poly has never been here before.”
Cal Poly has overcome season-ending injuries to several key
players – most notably starting guard-forward Kayla Griffin during
the Big West tournament final. Reeves described her squad as one
with ”nothing to lose,” adding that she and her teammates had
drawn some inspiration from upsets that headlined the first two
days of the men’s tournament.
Added Mustangs coach Faith Mimnaugh, a former Loyola of Chicago
player who once led the nation in assists in 1984-85, ”Never bet
against a coach whose name is Faith because anything can
Host team LSU may be the higher seed in the second game in Baton
Rouge, but Lady Tigers see Green Bay as a formidable first-round
opponent with a tradition of winning. The Phoenix, champions of the
Horizon League, enters its fifth straight NCAA tournament riding a
24-game winning streak. And Green Bay’s seniors have never lost a
”We thought they were going to be a sixth seed,” LSU guard
Jeanne Kenney said. ”We know Green Bay is a great team.”
The Lady Tigers have a size advantage, particularly when
6-foot-5 All-Southeastern Conference forward Theresa Plaisance
(17.4 points per game) is on the floor, stretching defenses with
her ability to score from inside and out.
LSU also has been a much stronger team over the second half of
the season than its overall record would indicate. After losing to
Tennessee on a last-second basket, on Feb. 7, the Lady Tigers won
seven straight, including two victories over top-10 teams (Georgia
and Kentucky). Their only loss after that came against Georgia in
the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.
”There was a period during this season where we could have
tanked,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. ”They stayed the course.
They matured. They grew together.”
The last time Green Bay lost a first round game was in 2009,
when, like this season, they were a No. 11 seed playing LSU in
Listening to Green Bay’s seniors, a lot has changed since then,
particularly when it comes to expectations.
”At Green Bay we’re used to winning and we like to win, and
it’s just a tradition of excellence we’ve developed here, the
culture that we can’t get enough of,” said senior guard Adrian
Ritchie, who averages 14.2 points per game. ”We’re putting
everything out there and we’re ready to play against LSU for