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PSU women to face quick, aggressive Florida

| Monday, March 24, 2014, 10:26 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Penn State's Talia East shoots over Wichita State's Kelsey Jacobs during the first round of the Women's NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 23, 2014, in University Park.

UNIVERSITY PARK — The No. 11 Florida women have been outsized and outmanned practically all season, and that won't change when they face No. 3 Penn State in the second round of the Women's NCAA Tournament on Tuesday at Bryce Jordan Center.

The Gators, however, never have considered themselves underdogs. Not when they were picked to finish 10th in the SEC and finished fifth, nor during a stretch when they had only seven players. And certainly not when they went to Louisville and defeated then-No. 6 Kentucky, 83-73, on Jan. 5.

The Gators' refusal to see themselves at a disadvantage will not change when they step onto Penn State's home court with the chance to move on to the Sweet 16.

“We are usually the underdogs. That's how it's projected,” said first-team All-SEC senior guard Jateera Bonds. “We don't think of ourselves as underdogs. In our minds we're always supposed to win. Seeding at this time does not really matter. It comes down to who wants it more, who is going to fight for it more and who has more heart.”

Penn State (23-7) defeated No. 14 Wichita State, 62-56, in their first-round game Sunday to advance to the second round, but they trailed at halftime and by as many as 11 points in the first half.

Florida (20-13) upset No. 6 Dayton, 83-69. The Gators also trailed at halftime and by as many as 12 points with 15 minutes left in the game. They'll be looking for upset No. 2 against Penn State, knowing that the majority of the crowd will be against them.

“I think that as a team we have overcome so much and had so many challenges that having a big crowd is one of those things that we smile at and say, ‘Let's do it. What else you got?' ” junior Kayla Lewis said. “I think that's the attitude our team has had all season, so we're excited.”

Penn State undoubtedly has the size advantage. Florida has just one player over 6-feet, and it isn't one of the starters. Two of Penn State's starters are 6-3, and one is 6-5. All four players who came off the bench Sunday were 6-1 or taller.

While the Gators may not have the depth or the size of Penn State, they are quick, physical and aggressive on defense. The matchup is unlike what the Lady Lions are accustomed to, senior Ariel Edwards said.

“Florida's very different from anyone we've played in conference,” Edwards said. “I can't really compare them to anybody. I think it's going to be tricky for both teams because they have so much speed and we have so much size. It's like which of the two is going to win out, almost.”

Florida coach Amanda Butler knows it isn't all going to come down to who's bigger versus who's faster, however. Penn State has some speed of its own, and the starting lineup includes four seniors who will do everything in their power to extend their careers. But when it does come to size, Butler, like her players, refuses to see their situation as a disadvantage.

“In some instances, we have size on our side, and it's not by being bigger but by being smaller,” she said. “That's one of the things we try to use to our advantage is making people uncomfortable with our size. A lot of people look at it as being a lack of size, but we dwell on our size as being a positive.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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