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March 18, 2013

Lady Lions earn third seed

Penn State enjoyed its trip to Baton Rouge, La., last March, so why not return to the scene of one of the program's biggest victories in recent years, a 90-80 win over host LSU that propelled the Lady Lions to the Sweet 16?

Thanks to the NCAA tournament selection committee, they will be doing just that. The Lady Lions received the third seed in the Spokane Region and will open against 14th-seeded Cal Poly at 5:15 p.m. Sunday in a first-round game at LSU's Maravich Assembly Center. If they advance to the second round, there's an excellent chance they will be matched against the Tigers, whose season they ended a year ago. Sixth-seeded LSU faces 11th-seeded Green Bay in the first round.

"We've been joking around all season that we wanted to go back," senior point guard Alex Bentley said. "It's funny that it happened this way, but it's really exiting."

When the eighth-ranked Lady Lions (25-5) gathered at the Bryce Jordan Center on Monday night to watch the selection show, they held out hope of gaining a No. 2 seed in the tournament. But a 54-46 loss to Michigan State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament hurt their NCAA credentials, and when ESPN began unveiling the brackets one by one, it wasn't long before the Lady Lions discovered that they had been seeded third.

Still, players were effusive about the opportunity with which they've been presented. The Spokane Regional is filled with West Coast teams that Penn State rarely sees, a list headlined by top-seeded Stanford and second seed California.

"I'm not surprised or disappointed with the seed," Bentley said. "That's how bracketology goes. We got the three seed, and now we're going to prepare."

"To me, there's not really a much of a difference between the two and three seeds," coach Coquese Washington added. "If both teams advance, they'll play each other anyway. We're happy to get an opportunity to be in the NCAA tournament and play another day. Whether we should have gotten a two or a three seed at this point doesn't really matter."

With three seniors and two juniors in their starting lineup, the Lady Lions are a veteran team that is tournament tested. Two years ago they reached the second round, falling to DePaul. Last year they improved on that performance by earning a spot in the Sweet 16 with victories over UTEP and LSU in the first two rounds. Their run ended with a 77-59 loss to Connecticut in the regional semifinals.

For the Lady Lions to improve on last year's showing, they will have to shrug off their worst offensive performance of the past few seasons. In the loss to the Spartans at Big Tens, Penn State shot 22.4 percent from the field and posted its lowest point total since a 71-39 loss to Wisconsin in February 2010.

"When you don't play with patience on the offensive end, you can shoot a really, really poor percentage," Washington said. "And that's what happened."

Cal Poly went 21-10 and got into the tournament by defeating Pacific, 63-49, in the final of the Big West tournament. The Mustangs are led by sophomore guard Ariana Elegado, who averages 15.2 points per game.

Washington didn't know a lot about Cal Poly on Monday night - she said she doesn't watch much basketball other than her own team and its Big Ten rivals - but she said the Lady Lions will be focusing on themselves over the next few days.

"We are who we are, and we play how we play," she said. "There's not a lot of changing things or adding things. It's mostly about sharpening your skills and getting ready for your opponents' best."


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