Feb 16, 2012; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions guard Maggie Lucas (33) drives during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Mackey Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sandra Dukes-US PRESSWIRE

Penn State Women draw UTEP in NCAA first round

The excitement was palpable when the Penn State Womens’ basketball team arrived at the Founders Room in the Bryce Jordan Center to watch the NCAA selection show on Monday night.

Surrounded by parents, friends, classmates, and a horde of media, the Lady Lions knew they would be chosen for the tournament. They knew they would be getting a higher seed, but they didn’t know who they would be playing or where they would be going.

No matter, because this was a celebration of a season well played, a Big Ten regular season championship, and the reward of  a second-straight trip to the tournament.

“We won a Big Ten championship this year,” high-scoring guard Maggie Lucas said, “and that is something this program hasn’t done in a long time–2004 I think–and it feels really good to get that, but we have more goals that we want to reach in the NCAA tournament.

“We are happy with what we’ve done. We improved SO much during the season until now. I think that is the most you can ask out of yourself is to improve.”

When asked about what was in store from the selection committee, Lucas had no preference. “You are not in control of it,” she said, “so there is no use getting yourself, you know, I want to play this team or I want to stay on the east coast so the best way to go into it is to be happy we’re in the tournament. There are a lot of teams that would like to be in our position, so we’re excited to play whoever they are going to put us against.”

Guard Zhaque Gray is the only senior on the Lady Lions’ roster, and this will be her second and final trip to the tournament. “I thought we had a great season,” she said. “I think that we improved a lot in terms of playing together as a team and defensively and offensively. And I am excited about all of this, to watch the selection show and everything.

“It’s bittersweet for me, but I’m just looking forward to where we are going and what we are going to do. I’m really excited for it and looking forward for it to happen.”

The show began, and everyone in the room hushed as each selection was announced. Finally, midway through the second bracket, Penn State was announced amid wild cheers and applause. The Lady Lions are the fourth seed in the Kingston bracket and will face the University of Texas El Paso at 5:15 on Sunday in Baton Rouge, La.

The #13 Miners are no slouches. The are 29-3 on the season and are the Conference-USA regular season and tournament champions. They have won 19 of their last 20 games. UTEP will be a stern test for the Lady Lions.

Penn State coach Coquese Washington was asked if she knew anything about them. “Not now,” she said, “but by 8 a.m., I will be well versed about UTEP.”

The Kingston bracket also includes #1 Connecticut, #2 Kentucky, #3 Miami, and #5 LSU. This will be no easy road for anyone, but the Penn State players were undaunted.

“It’s exciting,” junior forward Marisa Wolfe said. “We feel like we are in a good bracket, we do. It was just exciting to see our name and to know where we are going finally and to be able to prepare.”

“I think the big thing is not to worry about the other team,” coach Washington said, “but to worry about us. We are going to spend a lot of time working on us and the things we gotta do on both ends of the floor. We will get familiar with UTEP, but at this point we can’t change our stripes. We are going to be who we are, and we are going to work to be the best Penn State team that we could be.”

So it’s off to Baton Rouge to face a hot and confident team right from the get-go. No one said it would be easy.

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