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March 23, 2012
Story by Jeff Sattora, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When you sit down and take a look at the Penn State Lady Lions' record this season you may quickly say to yourself, "oh wow, the team is 26-6 on the year, they've had such a great season." But, talking to the players and coaches on the other hand, you may get a different response.
As the Lady Lions get ready for their Sunday showdown in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 against top-seeded UConn they might as well be 0-0. One game matters to this team, and it's the next one.
Penn State is going to need all the focus they can get as they get ready to face the best team they've played all year.
"They (UConn) are the best defensive team in the country," said Penn State head coach Coquese Washington on the Huskies. "And in addition to that they're a high-powered offensive team, so certainly the most balanced team we've seen this year."
The stats for UConn back up both those statements as they averaged a strong 76.3 points per game on offense, while holding their opponents to only 45.1 points, an incredible 31-point margin.
With that said Penn State is looking to use experiences from playing different teams throughout the year to help them prepare for this matchup.
"We've played some very good defensive teams, some very physical teams, we went against teams that played a four guard lineup, we've played teams with big post players," Washington said on how they can use all of that to their advantage on the court.
"I don't know if we've played one team that has everything Connecticut has, but we've played teams that do aspects of what UConn does," she added. "There's not going to be anything new."
The Lady Lions program will be facing Connecticut for the first time since the 2008-09 season, a 77-63 loss. While things came away poorly for the Lady Lions that time around, Coach Washington commented on just how much the program has grown in that short time.
"We've got stronger personnel than we had then, I think our confidence as a team is certainly higher," Washington said. "We've had some success over the last few years that gives us confidence going into this game."
Despite facing a program like UConn, which has won seven national championships, including back-to-back in 2009 and 2010, this group of players is a confident group, knowing what they are up against.
"We're glad to be in the position we are, we feel like we match-up well," said Penn State guard Maggie Lucas. "We're just going to be playing to our strengths, we do things well too, and we're ready."
"It's going to be a battle," added point guard Alex Bentley. "UConn is a powerhouse for women's basketball, but we're confident, I believe in my teammates."
Bentley, Lucas, and the whole team is going to need to be ready to go in what looks like it could be a fast-paced game, up and down game. Going along with UConn's high scoring average, the Lady Lions also average 76.2 points per game on the offensive end.
Having to play to strengths and pushing the pace is also no strange situation to Bentley, who is ready to lead that break and hopefully pull the upset.
"We're a scoring team, that's what we do best," Bentley said. "They're going to have to figure out how to stop us."
"I love getting up the court, setting up my teammates," Bentley added. "That's our game."
Penn State will need to play every bit of their game Sunday afternoon to pull the upset, and with the way this group is playing there is no one to tell them they can't.
It's time to go 1-0.