COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Eight years ago, I sat on press row at the American Airlines Center in Dallas and watched the last meeting between Penn and Texas in a NCAA basketball tournament.
Just like this past Sunday, the Quakers held a lead at halftime, but ended up losing to a superior group of players in white jerseys.
And in both instances, the Longhorns simply were not prepared for the opponent they faced.
That past game, of course, was a men's game, and Sunday's was a women's game. But I left the University of Maryland's Comcast Center, I could not help thinking of similarities betwewen the two games.
So allow me to tell a story. Those of you who've followed Penn for a long time will find it familar; those of you who are newer to the program will hopefully enjoy it too.
On the day before that 2006 game, Texas sent LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson and P.J. Tucker up to the podium to meet the press.
I will never forget hearing them talk about how Penn's players were smart and played hard. I could tell from their body language and their verbal language that the three Longhorns thought they'd breeze right by the Quakers.
When I first sat down to write this piece, I thought the exact quotes were lost to history. But after a bit of sleuthing, I found them in an old newspaper archive.
(On actual printed paper, no less.)
Tucker, the star swingman, was asked what he made of the Quakers from the film he had studied up to then.
"We see those guys play hard," he said. "They really play together; they really play hard on both ends of the court."
Tucker was then asked if he had known anything about Penn's players before seeing the tape.
"We knew they were in the Ivy League," he said. "I've seen them in the tournament before, that's about all. I don't know much about them and how they play - I know our coach knows their coach, but that's about all."
Gibson was asked if he had any particular impressions of the team he'd be facing the next day. He noted that "both" of Penn's guards "are quick, and they both do a good job of penetrating."
"They both can knock down" jumpers, Gibson continued. "They're both good players, great players."
If you had watched that year's Penn team to any degree, you knew that it never had just two guards on the floor at a given time. Indeed, the same could be said about any Penn team under Fran Dunphy, and about most Quakers teams since his departure as well.
I'm sure it was just a coincidence that pretty much everyone in the room at that moment knew it. The only people who seemed to not were the student-athletes (such as they were) on the podium.
After Gibson, Tucker and Aldridge left the stage, Penn's players arrived. They were informed of Texas' remarks, and Steve Danley offered a succinct response.
"You know, in the paper the other day, Rick Barnes had a quote about how well we dribble," the 6-foot-8 forward said. "That's when I knew they hadn't started watching film yet."
To be fair, Gibson and Tucker had every right to feel the way they did. Texas was the No. 2 seed and Penn was the No. 15. The Longhorns had earned the right to play their first two NCAA games in Dallas, and the sellout crowd that roared them on was a sea of burnt orange.
The team would go on to make the Elite 8. Gibson, Tucker and Aldridge would all go on to the NBA.
But in addition to those quotes, I also will never forget this: Penn led Texas at halftime, 23-22. One small section of red and blue behind me was shouting down the entire rest of the arena.
Eventually, Texas' defense and athleticism proved the difference. The Longhorns won, 60-52, in what proved to be Fran Dunphy's final game at Penn before succeeding John Chaney at Temple.
Sunday's Penn-Texas women's game was different in plenty of ways, of course. Not least among them, it should be said, is that there were far more Quakers fans in the stands than Longhorns fans. That's a rare sight at any NCAA tournament, men's or women's.
When Alyssa Baron gave Penn a 15-point lead with 4:35 to go in the first half, those fans erupted. And when the Quakers took a seven-point lead into the locker room at halftime, I could tell that they were allowing themselves a glimpse of optimism.
But I recognized some familiar faces from that trip to Dallas, and from many Penn games since. I could tell they were thinking the same thing I was: it would be very difficult for the Quakers to hold on and win.
That's exactly what happened. Texas deployed a full-court press early in the second half that rattled Penn's backcourt, and on offense the Longhorns pounded the paint on almost every possession. The Quakers' great freshman center, Sydney Stipanovich, picked up her fourth foul of the game just three minutes into the half, and fellow starting forward Kara Bonenberger fouled out with seven minutes to go.
Even by then, it was clear the game had all but slipped away. Texas was up by 12, and would go on to win by 18.
There's no reason why any of the participants would have, or should have, thought of that day in Dallas eight years ago. But the real reason inspiration for this story wasn't anything that happened on the court. It was a quote from Texas guard Empress Davenport after the game, and it brought back all of those memories at once.
I had asked her and Longhorns coach Karen Aston to talk about the importance of that pressure defense in the second half, and the mental aspect of winning the game at that end of the floor.
Aston said, accurately, that it was key to shutting Baron down. Then came Davenport's turn.
"Just to piggyback on what coach said, she had been drilling all week that number one [Baron] was a good player, and obviously she showed herself today," Davenport said. "In the first half, I don't really think we took that seriously."
In the first half, I don't really think we took that seriously.
The lesson that Davenport and her teammates learned at halftime is the same one that so many top teams over the years have learned. Whether as a No. 2 seed or a No. 5 seed, if you don't bring your best for every moment of March, you'll get punished for it.
Ask Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Ask the men's teams of Syracuse and N.C. State. Ask the women's team of North Carolina, which almost lost on its home floor to 13th-seeded Tennessee-Martin yesterday. It would have perhaps been an even bigger upset than any we saw on the men's side, Duke-Mercer included.
(And I can't help noting that it is good for the women's game to see upsets in the NCAA tournament. TV ratings may be better when the national powers dominate, but interest in the game as a whole grows when more teams win in March.)
As Empress Davenport and her teammates headed into the locker room at halftime Sunday, they faced that same big question. They were losing to a 12-seed, and facing the program's fifth straight exit from the NCAA tournament in the first round.
When the Longhorns returned to the court, they gave the right answer. That, more than anything else, is why they are still dancing.