Penn State, LSU prepare for second-round rematch

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Penn State coach Coquese Washington would like to believe her team's experience beating LSU on the Lady

Tigers' home court in the second round of last year's NCAA tournament would bode well for Tuesday night's rematch.

She'd be pleased if LSU's relative shortage of healthy players was something Penn State could exploit.

Washington is also wise enough — she has undergraduate and law degrees from Notre Dame, after all — to be cautious about the

Lady Lions' favored status against an LSU team which that has won eight of its last nine games.

"They're now playing their best basketball of the season, playing with a high level of confidence and playing on their home

floor," Washington said of the Lady Tigers. "That's tough to play against, so we've got to be ready."

Third-seeded Penn State (26-5), which

advanced with an 85-55, first-round demolition of Cal Poly on Sunday

night, has a deeper

lineup and better resume than LSU (21-11), which held on against

Green Bay after nearly squandering an 18-point second-half

lead.

Complicating matters for the Lady Tigers is the uncertain status of junior guard and emotional leader Jeanne Kenney, who banged

heads with teammate Adrienne Webb and was carried off the floor Sunday night holding a towel over her face.

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said tests were

ongoing Monday to determine if Kenney's injury was serious enough to

sideline her

Tuesday night. If Kenney is out, LSU, whose motto has been "Eight

is enough," (after the old TV series) will have only seven

available players.

"The thing is, they've played with limited

numbers all year. So they know how to play with seven people the whole

game," Washington

said. "They've dealt with it very, very well.

"We want to dictate the tempo," Washington continued. "It's going to be a contrast in styles. We want it up-tempo, they probably

want it a little bit slower. So we'll see which style can kind of win out."

Washington added that when she was an assistant coach on Notre Dame's 2001 national title team, the Irish's rotation was limited

to eight players, "So I'm not feeling sorry for Nikki Caldwell. She'll be fine."

Working in the Lady Tigers' favor is that

their short rotation has required the players who are available —

including talented

freshman guard Danielle Ballard and 6-foot-4 freshman reserve

center Derreyal Youngblood — to gain invaluable experience.

All the while, the team has jelled into a unit much more cohesive

and formidable now than when it lost six of nine games from

early January to early February.

"We've fought through adversity all year long," said All-Southeastern Conference forward Theresa Plaisance. "This is just

going to be another test."

The 40-year-old Caldwell went so far as to compare her squad to the fictional youth baseball team depicted in the movie "The

Bad News Bears," the original version of which was a hit when she was a kid in the 1970s.

"They weren't really good early and they just plugged away, plugged away, and their confidence started to build," Caldwell

said. "I'm proud of them for getting themselves into a position to compete again against a great team like Penn State."

LSU has players versatile enough to jump between several positions, allowing them to match up well with opponents despite

their lack of depth.

That's one reason why Caldwell, when asked about the prospect of having only seven players, responded, "As long as three of

them don't foul out, we'll be OK."

A prime example is the 6-5 Plaisance, an outside scoring threat that Washington called a "match-up nightmare," and one of

the biggest differences from the LSU team that Penn State vanquished a year ago.

So while the setting of this season's rematch is familiar, Penn State guard Alex Bentley said, "LSU has changed. We've changed.

So it's a whole different ball game now."

While LSU's changes are easy to notice with

different players emerging in central roles, Penn State has most of its

top players

back from last year, including Bentley, Big Ten player of the year

Maggie Lucas and front-court players Mia Nickson and Nikki

Greene.

Still, Bentley said Penn State's brand of basketball has evolved as returning players matured.

"We play a better, balanced inside-outside

game," Bentley said. "The guards are looking for the posts and the posts

are able

to kick out to the guards, so that's something we've definitely

improved on — and our defense has definitely gotten better."

The rematch also features two coaches with a lot in common.

They competed as players — Washington at

Notre Dame and Caldwell at Tennessee — and now as coaches. They're also

friends,

as well as examples of successful women who are also mothers of

small children, and who highlight their femininity by wearing

fashionable shoes on the bench.

When asked jokingly if it's intimidating to

coach against someone with a shoe collection like that of Caldwell, who

wore leopard-print,

high-heel ankle boots on the sideline Sunday night, Washington

responded, "Did you see how high my heels are? They're not

as fancy, not as much animal print, but the heel is pretty high.

I'm only 5-6, but on game day I'm like 5-10."