By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the second straight year Penn State is headed to Baton Rouge for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Its first round opponent is Big Sky Conference champion Cal Poly. Penn State and Cal Poly have never met before on the hardwood. Both teams have won eight of its last 10 games entering Sunday's matchup.
Looking at Penn State: Penn State hasn't played since falling to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on March 9. The Lady Lions were 2-1 in tournament play last season, winning both games at Louisiana State University, the host site of both last year's and this year's first two rounds for the Lady Lions. This tournament marks the final run for Lady Lion seniors Alex Bentley, Nikki Greene, Mia Nickson, Gizelle Studevent and Marisa Wolfe.
Penn State is 2-1 on neutral sites this season and have lost to a non-power six conference school only twice in the last three seasons (Green Bay, 2010; Delaware, 2011). At the conclusion of the Big Ten Tournament, Maggie Lucas was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 20.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals in two games.
Looking at Cal Poly: The Mustangs are led by 6-foot-5 junior center Molly Schlemer, the Big West player of the year. Schlemer is the fourth straight Big West women's basketball Player of the Year to play for Cal Poly after scoring in double figures in 20 of the Mustangs' 31 games this season. Senior guard Kayla Griffin and junior guard Jonae Ervin are two big pieces for Cal Poly, as Griffin is second behind Schlemer in rebounds with 7.0 per game and Ervin provides 4.4 assists per game.
Last Meeting: Cal Poly and Penn State have no prior series history, but the Lady Lions did play a Big West opponent this season in Cal State Northridge. Penn State won that game, 85-73, in the Radisson Chatsworth Thanksgiving Tournament. The Mustangs split their season series with Cal State Northridge, losing on the road Jan. 26, 80-70, in double overtime and winning at home,66-49, on Feb. 21. In Cal Poly's win against Cal State Northridge, Schlemer scored 22 points and had eight rebounds. Similarly, in Penn State's win against Northridge, Lady Lion center Nikki Greene had 21 points and 20 rebounds.
In the End: Penn State has the edge in almost every statistical category as you can see below, but must focus on the three leaders for Cal Poly in Schlemer, Ervin and Griffin. All three players provide different approaches for Lady Lion defenders, but are similar to offensive attacks Penn State has seen in Big Ten play. Greene will have to body up Schlemer and prevent her from getting comfortable in the paint. A hot start will help Penn State limit those three players from getting started offensively and as always, the Lady Lions must control the pace and not let Cal Poly get comfortable on the offensive end of the floor.
Below is the statistical breakdown of the Penn State/Cal Poly matchup.