The Penn State women's basketball team had an audience that included a smattering of fans, athletic director Dave Joyner, outgoing university president Rodney Erickson and football coach James Franklin. It got the seed it hoped for, too: No. 3.
Now for Penn State, it's about results and crafting a deep tournament run. The team's first game is at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Bryce Jordan Center against No. 14 seed Wichita State (25-6) from the Missouri Valley Conference. If Penn State (22-7) wins, it would face the winner of No. 6 Dayton and No. 11 Florida.
"The tournament, every game you play is tough and our focus is just being the best we can be," coach Coquese Washington said. "It doesn't matter who we play or where we play. We're going to be ready to go."
RMU women to play Notre Dame in NCAA tourney
The Robert Morris University women's basketball team will take on Notre Dame, a No. 1 seed, on Saturday in Toledo in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. (Video by Rebecca Droke; 3/17/2014)
Robert Morris will have a much more difficult task. The Colonials (20-11) are a No. 16 seed and will face top-seeded ACC power Notre Dame at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Toledo, Ohio.
The Fighting Irish (32-0) are ranked No. 2 in the polls and are one of two teams, along with No. 1 Connecticut, to enter the tournament undefeated.
Watching Monday night at Sewall Center, the Colonials cheered when they saw they would not face Connecticut in the first round, but facing Notre Dame is hardly any easier.
"These are intelligent young ladies; they know the task at hand," Colonials coach Sal Buscaglia said. "It's a David and Goliath type of thing, no question about that. In a David and Goliath situation, you realize the challenge that's ahead."
West Virginia (29-4) received the highest seed in school history with a No. 2. The Mountaineers will play 15th-seeded Albany (28-4) in the first round at 3 p.m. Sunday in Baton Rouge, La., followed by a potential road game against No. 7 seed LSU.
Penn State learned last year the importance of focus when it was upset in the second round by LSU. Another striking reminder came two weeks ago when Ohio State upset Penn State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
Senior forward Talia East said the biggest adjustment Penn State must make is on defense. In Big Ten play, defense was one of the team's biggest strengths. East said fatigue caused the team to wear down and forsake fundamentals against Ohio State.
"Coquese the past few days has harped on defense," East said. "That's all we've done at practice. It was something that needed to be tweaked so we could get back to our winning ways."
This is the fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for Penn State. It has not gotten past the Sweet 16 in the past three years. Its draw is relatively favorable this season, with the prospect of two home games against mid-major foes before what would likely be a Sweet 16 matchup with No. 2 Stanford. Penn State's region also doesn't include Connecticut or Notre Dame, both of which dominated the Lady Lions earlier this year.
The Colonials punched their ticket to the tournament with a win against Saint Francis Sunday in the Northeast Conference championship. For the three seniors, it will be their first trip to the NCAA tournament, and also Robert Morris' first since 2008.
"It's going to be a great atmosphere," senior Kelly Hartwell said. "I think it's going to be a moment that we're never going to forget."
The Irish rank second in Division I in offense with 86.6 points per game and have won all but two games this year by at least 10 points. Despite the long odds, the Colonials look forward to the big stage this weekend.
"I'm excited," senior forward Artemis Spanou said. "We watch Notre Dame on TV, on ESPN all the time and now we're actually going to go and play them. It is exciting."
Duquesne (19-12) was selected for a bid to the 64-team field for the National Invitation tournament.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05. Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SwernerPG.
First Published March 17, 2014 9:32 PM