The annual Pink Zone Game means plenty to everyone in the Penn State women’s basketball program, but it resonates even more with sophomore forward Peyton Whitted.
Whitted will be playing in her second Pink Zone game, which raises money for breast cancer research and celebrates women’s cancer survivors, at 2 p.m. Sunday against Wisconsin at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“It’s big for me because my grandmother had breast cancer,” said Whitted, a reserve forward. “She’s been cancer free for about five years now. She was able to come to the game last year. Last year was very big for me because I was able to look up into the stands and see her and see all of the rest of the survivors here.”
While her grandmother will not be here this time, Whitted said the game remains just as special to her.
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“This year will be the same feeling,” she said. “Playing for all of those people, just playing in those colors and just representing those people while we play is always big.”
Her teammates agree.
“I think it’s a different kind of feeling because you have all of these extraordinary people that file into the BJC and their stories are amazing,” said junior center Candice Agee. “They’re just really inspiring.
“All these ladies who have been through a lot come here and support us and we love them back. It’s our favorite game of the year.”
Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said she is often asked about the annual game and is stopped often by survivors.
Other schools have these types of events, but Penn State goes out of its way to make the event special.
“It’s the celebration,” Washington said. “I think that’s the cool thing about our Pink Zone experience — it’s such a wonderful celebration. The survivors feel like they’re treated like royalty. For one day they get to embrace what being a survivor means.”
In turn, the Lady Lions get to play in front of their biggest crowd of the season.
“Of course it does,” said Agee when asked if the crowd amps up the team. “You see all of the pink and the hats lighting up all around the stadium. The rows back there getting filled up for the first time. More people are here to watch and it makes you more excited to get out there and play.”
Also part of the afternoon this time is Senior Day, in which starter Tori Waldner and walk-on Molly Dincher will be honored.
“That makes it even more fun,” Whitted said. “Playing with that type of purpose and with so many fans here and it’s also Senior Day, there’s so many different kinds of emotions. It will be fun.”
The Lady Lions (6-22 overall, 3-12 Big Ten) hope they can pull off a win in front of those pink-clad fans.
They face a Wisconsin team (9-19, 4-13) that defeated them 65-46 way back on Jan. 6. Penn State shot just 30 percent in that game and the Badgers’ Jacki Gulczynski burned the Lady Lions by nailing six 3-pointers.
“I think they are a much improved team than the one we played earlier in the season,” said Washington. “They are third in the conference in 3-point percentage (37.3 percent). They do a good job of stretching your defense that way.”
The Lady Lions are hoping the end a four-game skid. They had 23 turnovers in an 88-70 loss to Ohio State on Thursday.
“We’ve got to take better care of the ball, much better than we did today,” Washington said after that loss. “We’ve got to rebound much better. If we can do those things on Sunday I think we have a chance.”
The game will have an effect on the seedings for the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. Purdue (3-15) is guaranteed to get the 14th seed since the Boilermakers lost to the Lady Lions. With a win, Penn State could finished tied with Indiana (4-13) and the Badgers. Penn State defeated Indiana in the only meeting between the schools and the Hoosiers won their only contest with the Badgers.
Whitted hopes the afternoon could sway things the Lady Lions’ way.
“We are definitely a lot better than we were when we played them before,” She said of the Badgers. “Playing in our Pink Game and playing at home is going to bring a lot more energy.”
Notes: Whitted likes the new pink Nike shoes that the Lady Lions have been breaking in at practices. “These are awesome,” she said. “They’re so comfortable and tight. I’m excited to play in them on Sunday.” … Penn State is 29-12 all-time against Wisconsin with an 18-2 mark at home. … The Badgers have been the Lady Lions’ Pink Zone opponent three previous times, including last season. Penn State has won all three meetings.