Geno Auriemma wants his team to be as tough as it is graceful, as forceful as it advantageous. He wants it to be a reflection of the what is inside senior guard Kelly Faris, pound-for-pound the team’s toughest dude.
“My father always told me when I was growing up, ‘Don’t let your opponent get to you,’” Faris said. “It seems like a little thing, but if someone tries to get into your head and you don’t allow it, it’s going to frustrate them even more.”
This kind of thought process make the professor glow with pride.
“There is not much I can really say about her that would be a totally accurate description about how I feel about her,” Auriemma said. “No one else is even close to her. She is on another level.”
Penn State’s front line on Thursday at Gampel Pavilion is not as imposing as Maryland’s was or Stanford and Baylor’s will be.
“But toughness doesn’t always need to be acting like a tough guy knocking people around,” Auriemma said. “You can be mentally tough, as well.”
Still, senior forward Mia Nickson is 6-2, junior forward Talia East is 6-3 and senior center Nikki Greene is 6-4 and capable of games like she had against Cal State Northridge (21 points and 20 rebounds). There is length on the bench.
This is junior guard Maggie Lucas’ team. She is averaging 21.4 points and is shooting 56.1 from three. The former high school teammate of UConn’s Caroline Doty, she is a match-watch player, from the stands and on the floor.
The Huskies already know this, however. In last season’s Sweet 16 in Bridgeport, Lucas was held to 4 of 16 (3 of 11 from three) in 40 minutes in UConn’s 77-59 win.
And now Penn State likely knows the way Maryland thought UConn could be beat may not be the way to go.
Or so you may tell just by looking at the face of Faris if someone tries to strong-arm her or her team.
“The second my teammates see that I am flustered by something, that is not a good thing,” Faris said. “The same thing goes for any other upper classmen. That is not a good sign. They [the younger players] feed off us, we set the tone. We can’t let the other team play its game, whether its by playing fast or tough.
“And anyway, there are a lot of players, a lot of teams that try to do different things [to disrupt you]. I’ve always been someone who tries to keep and even keel. I never try to let things show. The more you show it [frustration] the more energy it gives the other team.”