The NCAA Selection Committee sure must think that Penn State likes Louisiana.
For the second consecutive season and the fourth time since 1999, the Lady Lions are headed to Cajun Country for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Penn State (25-5) received the No. 3 seed in the Spokane Regional and will face 14th-seeded Cal Poly (21-10) at 5:15 p.m. Sunday in the opening round. That winner of that contest will face the winner between host and sixth-seeded LSU (20-11) and No. 11 Wisconsin-Green Bay (29-2) at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday in the second round.
Penn State’s seeding and trip back to Baton Rouge was a bit of a surprise as the pairings were announced Monday night live on ESPN.
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Many projected Penn State, the Big Ten regular-season champion and ranked in the Top 10 all season, as being a No. 2 seed. The Lady Lions obviously were hurt by a 54-46 semifinal upset loss to Michigan State in the conference tournament.
The committee also tries to avoid early rematches from last season’s tournament and sending a team back to the same site. Penn State defeated LSU 90-80 last season in Baton Rouge.
When the announcement was made just minutes into the telecast, the Lady Lions applauded quietly, but did not show much emotion over their placement.
“It doesn’t matter,” junior Ariel Edwards said of the seeding. “Sure it would have been nice to be a No. 2 because everybody always wants a higher seed. I think we’re still in position to accomplish some great things being a No. 3 seed.”
“We thought we could either be a No. 2 or a No. 3,” Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas added. “It is what it is. You’ve still got to win six games to get to the championship. That doesn’t change.”
Coach Coquese Washington said the committee had tough decisions with so many of the higher seeded teams serving as hosts for first round games.
“I think it was pretty close,” she said of her team getting a No. 2. “Once you got past the top four or five seeds, you could make an argument either way for a No. 3 seed or No. 2 seed. To me, it doesn’t really make any different between a No. 2 or a No. 3 seed. If both teams advance, you play each other anyway. We’ll take it. We’re happy to be playing.”
While going back to Baton Rouge was a surprise, Penn State guard Alex Bentley said the Lady Lions had joked all season about going back to the Pete Maravich Center.
Washington and her players believe the return trip could actually be a bit of an advantage. The Lady Lions averaged 87.5 points in wins over UTEP and LSU there last season.
“We had a good showing down there last year,” Washington said. “LSU is a great place to play. I love the support that they got. It’s a great NCAA Tournament atmosphere. We’re looking forward to going back.”
“I think it’s great,” forward Mia Nickson said. “We’ve been there before, so it’s not something new we have to get adjusted to. We just come in and play. We know the rims and we know the court. We’re excited.”
One thing the Lady Lions don’t know about is their first-round opponent. The Mustangs beat Pacific 63-49 to win the Big West Conference Tournament.
“I’ve heard of them, yes, but I don’t know anything about them,” Lucas admitted. “That’s the great thing about the NCAAs. You get to play against people that you haven’t played against, that you wouldn’t play against all year. We’re coming out of the Big Ten where everyone scouts you to death and knows you so well. We’re excited to play a new team.”
Cal Poly, located in San Luis Obispo, is led by 6-foot-5 center Molly Schlemer, who averages 13.0 points and 7.2 rebounds, and guard Ariana Elegado, who scores 12.3 points per game.
Penn State will have a decided advantage in experience against the Mustangs, who are NCAA newcomers. The Lady Lions are making their third straight appearance and 24th overall. They advanced to the Sweet 16 last season before falling to Connecticut.
“Usually the more experience you have playing in these types of environments, the less scary and it can be,” Washington said. “We’ve played in the tournament and we’ve had success.”
Regardless of the seeding and site, the Lady Lions have high expectations.
“We want to do some damage and make a run in the tournament,” Nickson said. “We have a good team with a lot of experience to do it.”
Notes: Penn State and Cal Poly have one common opponent. The Lady Lions defeated Cal State Northridge 85-73. Cal Poly split with Northridge, losing 80-70 in double overtime and winning 66-49.... Cal Poly has won eight of its last nine games, while Penn State is 2-2 in its last four. ... Tickets for the games in the Penn State block are available starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday by calling 867-2758. ... Standford and California are the top two seeds in the Spokane Regional.
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt