UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - One season ago, the Penn State Lady Lions walked
into the Bryce Jordan Center to play DePaul in NCAA Tournament second round.
Despite playing at home, it was unfamiliar territory for all of the Lady Lions on the roster. No one in the group had ever been in the NCAA Tournament, let alone the second round.
A back-and-forth clash came down to two Keisha Hampton free throws with four seconds to play, which dealt the Lady Lions an agonizing season-ending loss on their home floor.
Shortly after the game, everyone on the roster was adamant not to let
that feeling happen again.
The Lady Lions knew going into this season that they were not going to have the luxury of playing in the postseason at home after hosting NCAA competition last year.
That did not matter to head coach Coquese Washington and her team. Coach Washington went into the non-conference slate November preparing her team, both physically and mentally, for what transpired on Tuesday night in Baton Rouge.
After posting a 10-3 mark in road games during the regular season, and having gone through last season's NCAA Tournament experience, Penn State was more than prepared to play fifth-seeded LSU on its home floor in the second round of the tournament.
Nevertheless, playing a talented team like LSU in front of more than 3,000 roucous in the postseason is no small task. From the moment the Lady Tigers took the floor for warmups on Tuesday night, it was loud in the Maravich Assembly Center.
Lucas quieted the crowd in a big way with a dominant 19-point first half, but Penn State knew it was in for a fight when the halftime horn sounded with the score reading 37-36 in favor of the Tigers. Then, the first four minutes of the second half went in favor of LSU.
The Lady Tigers led 50-44 with 15:24 to play. Trailing by six with the crowd on its feet, Penn State had its back to the wall in a hostile environment. But this is where being battle tested after last season's NCAA Tournament experience and playing 13 games on the road in 2011-'12 came into play.
Regardless of the score, Penn State's poise, confidence level and mindset never changed.
The Lady Lions out-scored LSU 46-30 in the final 15:24 en route to a 90-80 victory and a spot in the Sweet 16. In hindsight, it is impossible to know how Penn State would have responded to a six-point deficit in Baton Rouge if it had not gone through last season's excruciating loss, but the players certainly had it in their minds.
"We were in this place last year, and it probably ended in the most hearbreaking way," Lucas said. "Those are the kind of moments that make these moments so sweet."
"We were in the same position LSU was, playing at home in the second round," said junior forward Mia Nickson. "It was not a good feeling losing in the second round. We did not want to repeat that this year."
Penn State showed grit and character throughout Tuesday's game. Reaching the Sweet 16 was a big step for the Lady Lions. Advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament is a huge confidence boost for the Big Ten regular season champs this spring, and it will pay dividends in the future, as well.
"I am very excited," sophomore Ariel Edwards said. "I know a couple girls on UConn's team. It is just very exciting. I have never been here before."
The Lady Lions will board a flight to Rhode Island on Friday evening for
the next step in their postseason quest.
Penn State will take on top-seeded UConn Sunday at 4:34 p.m. (ESPN2) in
"This win is great, but we are not done," Lucas said.
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