Penn State’s Nikki Greene doesn’t need an explanation about how difficult the basketball environment will be tonight for the Lady Lions against Texas A&M.
She’s taken the more than 120-mile trip from her home in Diboll to College Station several times to see the Aggies play at Reed Arena. In fact, she rooted for the them on their run to an NCAA title two seasons ago.
But tonight, Greene will be looking to lead the No. 9 Lady Lions (1-0) past No. 15 Texas A&M (0-1) at 8 p.m.
Greene will have a large contingent of friends, family and fans on hand as she plays against a Texas A&M’s Gary Blair, who recruited her when she was among a class of five outstanding Texas high school post players, including Baylor’s Brittney Griner.
Greene, usually pretty stoic on the court, admits she’s pumped up to play against the Aggies.
“I know that my high school coach is coming,” Greene said Tuesday. “She’s going to bring my high school team along with my mom. My grandma says she’s going to try to make the trip and a couple of other relatives are coming.
“I’m pretty excited. It’s pretty much going back home. It’s a two-hour drive, but it’s as close as I’m going to get.”
Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said getting a game with the Aggies, who defeated her alma mater Notre Dame 76-70 in the 2011 NCAA final, was a perfect fit for the Penn State schedule.
“We definitely felt like we wanted to upgrade our non-conference schedule and play some of the best talent in the nation,” Washington said. “Texas A&M is two years removed from a national championship and have a lot of the core players back from the team that has been so successful. It is close to Nikki’s hometown so it was a win-win situation.”
Greene’s teammates hope to make the trip successful for the 6-foot-4 senior, who on Sunday started her 100th career game at Penn State.
“We want to go down there and play hard for Nik,” guard Maggie Lucas said. “She’s probably going to have a huge amount of support.”
“Every time you get to go home is great,” added forward Mia Nickson. “Nikki doesn’t get to go home that often, so it’s pretty exciting for her.”
Greene also will be reunited with Texas A&M’s Kelsey Bone, another one of those five standout centers in the Class of 2013. The two faced off as freshmen as the Lady Lions tangled with South Carolina in 2009. Greene held Bone, who entered the game averaging 27 points, to 5-for-16 shooting and 10 points in the Lady Lions’ 63-56 loss to the Gamecocks.
Bone transferred after that season to Texas A&M.
“She was a really good player,” Greene said of Bone. “She was one of their offensive threats and was versatile in the block. She played like an All-American, like she came out of high school.”
Bone had 14 points in a 49-45 loss against current No. 8 Louisville last Friday.
Washington expects the 6-foot-4 Bone to present Greene and her teammates a challenge on defense. “She’s good. That kid has been good since she was 14,” Washington said of Bone. “She’s just a really good polished solid post player. ... She’s got the high post game. She can put the ball on the floor. She’s just terrific when she gets great position in the post.”
Washington also is concerned by 6-foot-5 center Karla Gilbert, who plays alongside Bone. “They’ve got two powerful, dynamic post players,” Washington said. “It’s going to be a challenge for our defense to contain those two.”
Blair is worried about containing the Lady Lions, who opened the season with a 72-61 win over Howard. He pointed to Lucas (25 points against Howard) and Bentley (14 points, 7 steals) among the challenges for his defense, led by freshman whiz Courtney Walker.
“We’re going to have problems on who to put Walker on because she cannot be put on every kid out there,” Blair said.
Neither team admittedly played well in their openers. Penn State had 20 turnovers and gave up 36 points to Howard’s Saadia Doyle. Texas A&M rallied from a 14-point deficit, but blew a late lead to Louisville.
“First games don’t mean anything,” Washington said. “You saw us play our first game. I have a sneaky suspicion Texas A&M is going to play a lot better than they did their first game and I’m really confident we’re going to play lot better.
“It’s going to be a challenge in styles,” she added. “We want to play up-and-down. We want a high-scoring, fast-paced game. They kind of like to grind it out a little bit more.”
Greene believes that the Lady Lions have what it takes score a Texas-sized triumph.
“I believe that we can come out of the game with a win if we stay to our principles and keep our composure,” Greene said. “A&M, I’ve been there before several times and their atmosphere is very competitive. Their fans like to change the momentum of the game. If we avoid giving in to their fans as well as what A&M is giving to us, I feel like we can come out with a win.”
Notes: Texas A&M leads the all-time series 1-0, having won 61-57 in 2008. ... Texas A&M was picked to finish third in its first season in the Southeastern Conference. ... Penn State dropped a spot in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls after Sunday’s game. ... Greene is now fifth on PSU’s list in career blocks (176) and 12th in rebounds (727).
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt