Retooled LSU awaits Penn State women in 2012 tourney rematch
BATON ROUGE, La. — There's no been there, done that for the Penn State women's basketball team.
“The arena is familiar, but we are two different teams now from last year,” Penn State senior guard Alex Bentley said. “LSU has changed, we have changed, so it's a whole different ballgame now.”
However, when the Lady Lions (26-5) take on LSU (21-11) at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, the matchup will be on the same court with the same stakes as last season, with a bid in the NCAA Women's Tournament's round of 16 on the line.
In the first round Sunday, third-seeded Penn State started slowly but advanced with an 85-55 rout of Cal Poly. LSU nearly squandered a 17-point second-half and held on for a 75-71 victory over Green Bay.
LSU might also be without Jeanne Kenney, a junior guard who left late in Sunday's game after a nasty head-to-head collision with a teammate forced her to be carried off the court.
“Well, at this time Jeanne is going to be re-evaluated,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said Monday. “She's feeling a lot better than what she was yesterday after having that collision. So we are still waiting to find out more, whether Jeanne will be able to go or not.”
Kenney, a tough defender, averages 5.5 points and leads LSU with 155 assists. If she doesn't play, the Tigers will basically be going with six players.
Penn State coach Coquese Washington wasn't going to cut her good coaching friend any slack about not having many options on the bench.
“You know, with TV timeouts and all, I think having seven, eight people is plenty. I just don't think it's something that hinders you from being successful,” Washington said. “So you know, when I was at Notre Dame and we won the national championship, I think we only played eight players.”
Washington laughed and slapped the table.
“So I'm not feeling sorry for Nikki Caldwell,” she said with a smile. “She'll be fine.”
One thing Caldwell has going for her is Theresa Plaisance, a 6-foot-5 junior who has become one of the more well-rounded players in the country.
Plaisance, who transformed herself in the past year by getting in better shape and developing her outside game, leads LSU in scoring with 17.3 points per game and is second on the team in 3-pointers, hitting 24 of 70.
You know, she's a matchup nightmare,” Washington said. “Just what she can do with her size at 6-5, shooting it from the outside, putting it on the floor, creating her own shot, creating for her teammates and then being able to score down low.”
Plaisance and hefty 6-4 junior teammate Shanece McKinney should have quite a battle with Penn State's trio of 6-4 senior Nikki Greene, 6-2 senior Mia Nickson and 6-3 junior Talia East.
But the perimeter play, focusing on Penn State's Maggie Lucas, the Big Ten Player of the Year, and backcourt mate Bentley, might determine how it goes, especially if the Lady Lions can get going in transition.
A year ago, Penn State beat LSU on its home court, 90-80, to advance to the regional semifinal for the first time since 2004. LSU's roster is markedly different than last season's, while Penn State has most of its team back.
“We want to dictate the tempo,” Washington said, pointing out that LSU got hot late in the season, winning its last six regular-season games and the Southeastern Conference Tournament opener by slowing things down a bit.
“I think it's going to be a contrast in styles,” Washington said. “You know, we want it up tempo. They would probably like it a little bit slower. So we'll see which style can kind of win out.”
Lee Feinswog is a freelance writer.