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Florida to face Penn State in second round of NCAA Tournament

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Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 1:04 am

The last time Florida made it to the NCAA Tournament, it fell in the second round to then-No. 1 Baylor.

This season, the Gators have again advanced to the second round and are set to face off against the regional host and No. 3 seed Nittany Lions in University Park, Penn., tonight at 7 p.m.

“I have great respect for (Penn State head coach) Coquese (Washington), a great coach, a great program with great players, especially senior-led,” coach Amanda Butler said.

“Inevitably there is going to be growth and improvement and changes that make them a better unit throughout the year.

“Playing in a fantastic league like the Big Ten, you’re going to find things out about yourself — good and bad — that help you become a better team. I think all those things have taken place with them.”

Penn State, the No. 14 team in the country and Big Ten champion, has a lethal combination of size and scoring that will be tough for Florida to contain.

Senior guard Maggie Lucas is averaging a team-high 21.5 points per contest on 39.8 percent shooting and a 36.7 percent clip from downtown. She also has made 94.7 percent of her attempts at the charity stripe this year.

Senior forward Ariel Edwards, who measures up at 6-foot-3, is averaging 15.4 points and nearly six boards per game.

“Something that we’ve known all year is that we’re smaller than everybody else,” redshirt sophomore Carlie Needles said.

“We’re a team that likes to play in transition and that’s kind of a flaw for teams that are bigger — they can’t really play in transition as much as we do.

“We’re going to try to use that to our advantage like we have been all year and try to force them to do things they’re not comfortable with. Sometimes playing someone who is smaller than you is a little more uncomfortable than playing someone that is the same size as you.”

Both the Gators and the Nittany Lions competed at this season’s Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas in November 2013.

If Florida hadn’t lost in an upset to then-winless Illinois State, tonight’s game would have been the two sides’ second matchup.

Although the two teams didn’t play each other, the Gators observed the Nittany Lions during its time in the Bahamas.

“We had the chance to see them in the Bahamas,” redshirt junior Kayla Lewis said. “It was good to see them again, but teams change a lot from November to March.

“It’s good to see a team play, but it’s different to play against them, you get a feel for the emotional things and intangible things that you don’t get to see on film, so it was good to see them play.

“As far as comparable to the SEC, they have a lot of size like a lot of teams in the SEC have — big teams like Tennessee, LSU, South Carolina, which have those 6-3, 6-4 kids, multiples down low. We have seen it before.”

The tough SEC schedule Florida endured will surely come in handy tonight against Penn State in a number of ways.

Penn State has the size of some elite SEC teams like Tennessee and South Carolina. However, because the game is being played in their arena, the atmosphere will surely be SEC-like as well.

“Definitely playing in the SEC and playing teams with great crowds like Kentucky, like Tennessee, like South Carolina that have a really big crowd definitely has prepared us for something like this,” Lewis said.

“As a team, we’ve overcome so much and seen so many challenges. Having a big crowd is something that we smile at (and say), ‘Let’s do it, what else ya got?’ That’s kind of the attitude our team has and has had all season, so we’re excited.”

Follow Gordon Streisand on Twitter @GordonStreisand

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