LSU (20-11) opens tournament play at 6:30 p.m. Sunday against No. 11 seed Green Bay (29-2), which comes into the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on a 24-game winning streak.
In Sunday’s other first-round game, No. 3 seed Penn State (25-5) is back in Baton Rouge for a second straight year. The Nittany Lions will square off against No. 14 seed Cal Poly (21-10) at 4:15 p.m.
Both games will be on ESPN2. The winners will meet at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in the PMAC for the right to advance to the Spokane Regional semifinals March 30.
The Women’s Final Four is April 7 and 9 in New Orleans Arena.
Six weeks ago, the Lady Tigers were 13-10 and 4-6 in Southeastern Conference play, and it looked like they would force coach Nikki Caldwell to make good on her threat to have her players sweep floors and work concession stands during NCAA play here if they didn’t make the tournament.
But make it they did, winning seven of their last eight games to earn their second bid in as many seasons under Caldwell and LSU’s 22nd overall.
“It’s always refreshing to see your name called on Selection Monday,” Caldwell said. “I’m extremely excited about this team. We’re a team that has gone through a lot and a team that has rallied and been there for each other.”
Despite a roster of just eight available players, the Lady Tigers have lofty ambitions from what compared to teams like Baylor (No. 1 overall seed) and Stanford (No. 1 seed in Spokane) are more modest beginnings.
“We want a national championship,” junior guard Jeanne Kenney said. “That’s every team that gets into the NCAA tournament. This is our home court, and we have to protect what’s ours.”
The familiar surroundings of the PMAC will be filled with familiar looking teams.
Green Bay, ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press poll and champion of the Horizon League regular season and tournament, was LSU’s first-round foe here in 2009 in what also was a 6-versus-11 matchup. The Lady Tigers clawed out a 69-59 victory against the Phoenix before falling 62-52 in the second round to eventual national runner-up Louisville.
Senior guard Adrian Ritchie, the Horizon League tournament MVP, leads a balanced Phoenix scoring attack at 14.2 points per game. Green Bay hasn’t lost since a 54-50 setback Dec. 5 at Central Michigan.
If LSU beats the Phoenix, it could have to face Big Ten champ Penn State for the second straight year. The Nittany Lions, who lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, beat LSU 90-80 here last year en route to the Sweet 16.
Penn State again is led by Maggie Lucas, a sharpshooting junior guard. Lucas, who dropped 30 points on LSU last year, averages 20.5 points and is fourth in the nation with a 47.5 3-point shooting percentage.
Cal Poly is coming off a victory in the Big West Conference tournament. That handed the Mustangs an automatic bid to their first Division I tournament appearance. Molly Schlemer, a 6-foot-5 junior center, leads Cal Poly in scoring (13.0) and rebounding (7.2).