They're not quite "there" yet.
Last night presented the Lady Lions a chance to take the next step, so to speak.
A win over powerhouse No. 2 Connecticut, on the road, against the team that ended its 2011-12 campaign in the Sweet 16 would have made this program that Coquese Washington has so impressively rebuilt firmly elite, no question about it.
But the Lady Lions lost 67-52, and it wasn't pretty. Four of five starters had at least four fouls, Penn State shot 33.9 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 26 times.
Washington's team is assuredly in women's basketball's upper echelon, but the loss shows that the Lady Lions aren't quite up to the very elite level of a UConn, Stanford or Baylor.
Now, what Washington has done at Penn State in the past five years deserves great recognition.
The head coach was hired during a turbulent time in April 2007, a month after the extremely successful Rene Portlandresigned amid discrimination allegations.
In Washington's first two years here, the Lady Lions finished below .500, but that was to be expected -- she had to rebuild and get her own recruits in the mix. It her third year, it went 17-14; the next year, 25-10 and earned an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Last year, the program, which went 605-235 under Portland, was "back," finishing 26-7, winning the Big Ten in the regular season, making the Sweet 16 and earning Washington a Big Ten Coach of the Year award.
And this season, its expectations are greater than they've ever been under Washington, the Notre Dame grad and former WNBA guard. The 6-2 Lady Lions opened this year No. 8 in the AP Poll, returning all starters but one.
But last night's loss tells that there's work to be done to reach a Final Four.
"I think it can, but I think because it's such an early season game that you have to build on it," Washington said on Wednesday when asked if a win would cement an elite status. "We have to build on that through the rest of the season with what we do. There's no mistake that this could be a very impactful win for us. But again, it has to be part of a bigger picture."
Indeed, this loss does not mean Washington's program isn't very good. In the bigger picture, it's one loss in what should be hundreds in Washington's head coaching career. In the bigger picture, it's something she will build on moving forward.
And make no mistake, that elite status appears to be somewhere in Washington's future. Her next recruiting class contains four members of ESPN HoopGurlz's Top 100 prospects.
Washington said she doesn't put too much emphasis on any one game, a very fair stance to take. Still, yesterday's showed something:
The Lady Lions are only great.
Tim Gilbert is a sophomore majoring in print journalism and is a Daily Collegian copy/wire editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org