By Brian Trip, Lady Lions Radio Analyst
BATON ROUGE, La. - With fewer than 24 hours until the tip-off of Penn State's opening round game with UTEP, head coach Coquese Washington along with guards Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas met with the media Saturday afternoon. Below are four quotes addressing key themes from the media session.
"Losses stay with you" - Alex Bentley,
Penn State entered the Big Ten tournament semifinals on an eight-game winning streak playing its best basketball of the season, despite an injury to sophomore forward Ariel Edwards. However, the regular season Big Ten champs could not complete a championship sweep, falling to Purdue 68-66 in the conference tournament's third round. The top-seeded Lady Lions were favored to beat fourth-seeded Purdue, especially after beating the Boilermakers in West Lafayette for the first time since 2004 in the two teams' lone regular season meeting. Now, for the first time in a month and a half, Penn State is forced to play after falling in its last game. Fortunately, the Lady Lions are 5-0 after a loss this season. And if Bentley's statement holds true, expectations should be high for Sunday evening, particularly for the Indianapolis-native who led the team in scoring and assists in the Big Ten Tournament.
"You take something from the losses" - Maggie Lucas, Sophomore guard
Somewhat echoing Bentley's statement, Lucas does indeed seem to take something from losses. The Narberth-native has helped ensure the Lady Lions avoid back-to-back losses this season by leading the team in scoring in each game following a loss. Lucas had one of her worst performances of the year in the Big Ten semifinal against Purdue, scoring just nine points on 3-for-11 shooting, including going 0-for-5 from beyond the arc. The way the 2010-2011 campaign ended probably helped motivate Lucas last summer when she made 100,000 shots. Last March, An energized DePaul offense fueled a comeback in a 75-73 victory over the Lady Lions in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Hoping to take the next step and head to the regional semi-finals next weekend, Penn State is sure to rely heavily on Lucas again as it has all year following a disappointing defeat.
"If you are in the NCAA Tournament you are going to have to beat good teams, seeding doesn't mean anything" - Head Coach Coquese Washington.
In just the team's second NCAA tournament appearance under Washington, fourth-seeded Penn State secured its highest tournament seed since the 2005 season. Although they will be favored this weekend, the Lady Lions would be huge underdogs in a potential sweet sixteen matchup with top seeded Connecticut. While the regular season Big Ten champions would have preferred a three seed from the NCAA selection committee, Washington knows the team would eventually be forced to defeat one of the nation's top teams to reach the Final Four in Denver. While it might come a bit earlier than hoped for, the Big Ten Coach of the Year has stressed to her players to only worry about what they can control, and that starts tomorrow with UTEP.
"We don't want to play in an empty arena...I'm for whatever is going to give our student-athletes the best competitive experience" - Coquese Washington
A lot has also been made of the team's placement in Baton Rouge, La., the home of fifth-seeded LSU. Unlike the men's NCAA Tournament, the women's tournament is hosted on campus sites and teams participating get an extra opportunity to play in front of home fans. Many felt Penn State as the regular season Big Ten champions should have been sent to a destination closer to University Park or have a more favorable potential second round matchup. A win on Sunday pits the Lady Lions against either LSU or San Diego State Tuesday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. However, as evidenced by Washington's quote, she recognizes that playing true road contests in tournament play is needed for the game to grow. The Lady Lions proved to be one of the best road teams in the country this season going 7-1 in Big Ten road contests. Penn State also knows firsthand that hosting tournament action doesn't guarantee a victory. The Lady Lions hosted third-seeded DePaul last year in the NCAA Tournament's second round and suffered a heartbreaking two-point loss.