After their victories in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, Lady Lion basketball players saluted the crowd, saying that the home-game ambiance at the Bryce Jordan Center helped them get past Wichita State and Florida to reach the Sweet 16.
The crowd won't be quite so friendly on Sunday. Third-seeded Penn State will face second-seeded Stanford in the regional semifinals, and it will do so in the most hostile venue imaginable: Maples Pavilion.
"It's a road game," Lady Lions coach Coquese Washington said. "We've gone on the road and played in a variety of environments. We've had some success on the road. We haven't played at Maples Pavilion - a storied environment, a tough environment to play in. We know that's going to be a challenge. But we try not to worry about those things. We can't control them. The thing we can control is our execution, so we focus on our execution."
Stanford, which defeated South Dakota and Florida State to reach the regional semifinal, is led by forward Chiney Ogwumike. The 6-foot-4 senior has been dominant for the Cardinal this season, averaging 26.6 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. She's shooting 61.1 percent from the field.
"You've got to know where Ogwumike is," Washington said. "She's capable of getting 50 on you if you don't know where she is. So we have to have a strong defensive effort. But one of the things that makes this Stanford team so challenging to defend is that they do a really good job of spreading the floor. They put a lot of shooters around her, and one of the reasons she's able to do all the things she does is because of the players around her. You can't just sit in the paint and try not to let Chiney Ogwumike touch the ball. They're going to be a challenge for us to defend."
Facing the Cardinal, one of the traditional power programs in women's basketball and the sixth-ranked team in the most recent Associated Press poll, is slightly less daunting with Penn State having played three teams of similar stature in its nonconference season. One of the objectives in scheduling Connecticut, Notre Dame and Texas A&M this season - Penn State lost to the Huskies and Irish and defeated the Aggies, all at the BJC - was to prepare players for the rigors of the NCAA tournament.
"There's a certain level of confidence that you [develop]," Washington said. "Now that you have the confidence, you have to add the execution onto that. If we execute on a high level, then we'll be in the game, and it will be a competitive game."
Tipoff is set for 4:30 p.m. ET. The game will air on ESPN2.