Saturday, Mar 17, 2012 Tipoff: 5:15 pm EDT Sun Mar 18, 2012

A pair of regular-season conference champions square off as fourth-seeded Penn State meets No. 13 seed UTEP in the first round of the Kingston regional Sunday at Baton Rouge.

Penn State (24-6) comes into the NCAA tournament off of a loss - not that there’s any reason for coach Coquese Washington to be too concerned about that. The Lady Lions, the Big Ten regular season champs, have not lost two games in a row yet this season.

“I don’t think there will be any carry over,” Washington said. “I think we’ll play well.”

After losing to Purdue in the final seconds of the Big Ten tournament semifinals, the Lady Lions could have their hands full with the Miners (29-3), who won Conference USA’s regular season and tournament titles, and whose three losses came by seven points combined.

“They clearly know how to win games,” Penn State guard Maggie Lucas said. “We have a lot of respect for them.”

Lucas clearly knows how to score, averaging a team-leading 19.1 points per game with a season high of 33.

Junior Point guard Alex Bentley has averaged 14.2 points and nearly five assists. Zhaque Gray completes the three-guard system with her ability to score from outside, hitting 44 3-pointers this season and averaging 10.6 points.

“I’m sure Lucas loves playing with Bentley. It’s quite a 1-2 punch,” UTEP coach Keitha Adams said. “Gray can sit right over there and knock down 3-point shots. … They’re three very dynamic guards together.”

One season ago, UTEP lost a dozen games by single digits, leaving the Miners confident they could turn the corner and start racking up wins in 2011-12.

“We had a mindset that we were going on a payback tour from what we had gone through the year before,” Adams said.

The Miners have been led by Gloria Brown, a 6-foot-2 senior who does not start and plays about 20 minutes a game, but ranks first on the team in both scoring (11.9 ppg) and rebounds (8.8 rpg). Adams said Brown is more comfortable coming off the bench and is less likely to get in early foul trouble that way, but may see more minutes in the tournament.

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