“Same time, Next year.”
The movie title is an apt description for Tuesday’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament matchup between third-seeded Penn State (26-5) and No.6 LSU (21-11) at 9:30 p.m.
The two squads met last season in second round the NCAA Tournament at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center with the Lady Lions advancing to the Sweet 16 with a 90-80 triumph.
But while it’s the same two programs at the same site, players and coaches from each squad say that’s where the similarities end.
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The Lady Tigers have the most differences.
LSU returns just two starters from that game and one of those (Jeanne Kenney) may not be able to play Tuesday.
Coach Nikki Caldwell’s team struggled to even make the tournament. The Lady Tigers were 13-10 after a tough 64-62 loss to Tennessee on Feb. 7 and in danger of missing out action on its home court. But the Tigers ran off seven straight wins, beating No. 8 Kentucky and No. 9 Georgia on the way.
Caldwell used a movie classic to describe her club.
“This team reminds me of a team that came together like the Bad News Bears,” Caldwell said. “They weren’t really good early, and then they just plugged away, plugged away, and their confidence started to build.”
Penn State coach Coquese Washington has seen the progression of the Lady Tigers.
“It takes time to gel,” Washington said. “They started to figure it out the last seven or eight games of the season — who they are, who their identity is, how they needed to play, what they can do well and be successful.”
“This a new year,” LSU forward Theresa Plaisance said. “We have a completely new starting lineup, and we have new things to offer this year.”
Certainly, Plaisance is offering more. The 6-foot-5 junior, who had 10 points against Penn State as a reserve last season, has turned into one of the Southeastern Conference’s most prolific scorers.
Plaisance, an excellent outside shooter, led the league with 11 20-point games and is averaging 17.3 per game.
“She’s a problem,” Washington said of Plaisance. “She’s a matchup nightmare, just what she can do with her size at 6-foot-5, shooting it from outside, putting it on the floor, creating for her teammates.”
Plaisance has not had too many teammates this season. The Lady Tigers were already down to a roster of eight before Kenney and teammate Adrienne Webb had a freak collision late in Sunday’s 75-71 opening round win over Wisconsin Green Bay.
The two LSU players butted heads and after several minutes Kenney had to be helped from the floor.
Caldwell said that Kenney was being evaluated for concussion symptoms and was not at practice Monday. She did not rule out that Kenney would play Tuesday.
She’s feeling a lot better than what she was yesterday,” Caldwell said Monday afternoon. “ We are still waiting to find out more, whether Jeanne will be able to go or not.”
For a team whose motto has been “Eight Is Enough,” LSU could be down to seven against a Penn State squad that will force the tempo.
“As long as three of them don’t foul out, we’ll be okay,” Caldwell chuckled.
The LSU coach knows her squad will have a handful with Penn State. That’s certainly something the Lady Tigers remember from last season.
Maggie Lucas lit up LSU for 30 points last season and was one of five Lady Lions in double figures.
“A lot of attention is going to be on Maggie Lucas but there’s a lot of other players that they have that can do us a lot of damage, too,” Plaisance said.
Caldwell said having seen Penn State last season helps.
“The one thing about playing a team that you’ve played before is obviously you know their game,” she said. “They know who Nikki Greene is. They know who Lucas is. They have a feel for what they are capable of doing.
“If this team wants to win (Tuesday) night, we cannot play the same way we did last year. We have to totally erase last year and focus in on who we are today and who we will be tomorrow and we are a totally different team.”
While most of the personnel in the same, the Lady Lions say they are different, too.
“We have improved across the board,” point guard Alex Bentley said. “I think we play better balance inside-outside game. The guards are looking for the posts and the posts are able to kick out to the guards. That’s one improvement and our defense definitely has gotten better.”
Based on last year’s game, the Lady Lions expect a scrap, especially in the paint.
“It was very physical,” said forward Mia Nickson, who watched the tape of the game over the summer.
“It was a battle especially in the post. People got hit in the face. People got scratched up, got pulled to the ground.”
“I think they are now playing their best basketball of the season, playing with a high level of confidence and playing on their home floor in this environment,” Washington said of LSU. “That’s tough. That’s tough to play against. We’ve got to be ready.”