Penn State is in a familiar position in familiar territory.
But for the Lady Lions, this is typically where their season ends.
No. 3 seeded Penn State (23-7, 13-3 Big Ten) advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season.
For the third consecutive season, the Lions will play an SEC team in the second round. This year, Penn State faces 11th-seeded Florida (20-12, 8-8 SEC) tonight at 7 p.m. on the Lions’ home court in the Bryce Jordan Center.
The second round matchups have not been kind to the Penn State, as it has not made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament in a decade.
“It is going to take a huge focus on defense [to advance],” Maggie Lucas said. “We are going to have to put together a good game. We have to be ready to handle the runs of the game.”
After a slow start on Sunday, Penn State narrowly defeated Wichita State, coming back from a five-point halftime deficit. The Lions used their size advantage and senior leadership to escape the Shockers upset attempt.
But Florida poses a different threat, using speed and crafty defense to finish fifth in the SEC this season.
“Will speed versus size be an issue? I think in some matchups it will, but Penn State has speed,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said. “…In some instances, we have size on our side and it’s not by being bigger, but by being smaller.”
Penn State could win the game on the boards, as Florida has been out-rebounded by teams by 3.5 boards per game.
Rebounds made a difference late in the Lions’ win over the Shockers, and with Penn State’s height, it could give it the advantage in the paint.
“[The Gators do a good job of] getting the ball in the paint and creating shots for themselves and their teammates,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “Then they crash the glass very well, the offensive glass, so keeping the ball out of the paint is going to be very important for us.”
Forward Talia East has come alive for the Lions down low in the postseason with a double-double after posting 13 points and 13 rebounds against Wichita State.
“It’s great to know that you can throw it in [to East] and get a good result out of throwing the ball to the post,” Ariel Edwards said. “That helped us out a great deal.”
Florida has seen NCAA-caliber teams all season in arguably the best conference in college basketball this year, with two SEC teams in South Carolina and Tennessee earning No. 1 seeds in the 2014 tournament. Florida fell to both squads in the regular season.
But Florida is not shy to playing higher-ranked teams on the road. The Gators defeated No. 15 Kentucky twice this season.
“Playing in the SEC, playing teams that have great crowds like Kentucky, like Tennessee, like South Carolina who have great crowds has really prepared us for something like this,” Florida guard Kayla Lewis said. “… Having a big crowd is one of those things that we smile at and say, ‘Let’s do it. What else you got?’ ”
Katie McKenna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-1828. Follow her on Twitter at @ChattieKathie.