The University of Montana women’s basketball team hasn’t played a team like UCLA.
So count Montana coach Robin Selvig as being just as curious as anybody. His 14th-seeded Grizzlies (18-14) face off against the No. 3 Bruins (27-4) in an NCAA tournament opener today at 3:30 p.m., the second of two games at McCarthey Athletic Center.
“I’ve gained a lot of respect watching them on video,” Selvig said. “They’re a great defensive team and I’m a guy that takes a lot of pride (in defense). You can just tell they have great pride in defense. They’re different than anybody we’ve played. I don’t think there are many teams in the country that are like them.”
The Bruins get after opponents from end line to end line, and they’d much rather stop a team 94 feet from the basket than inside the 3-point arc.
“We couldn’t simulate what they do in practice,” Selvig said. “We don’t have that kind of quickness. We might not have guys on our campus that quick. They’re really good defensively so when we get good shots we’ve got to make them.”
Selvig has resigned himself to the fact that his team will commit turnovers. After all, Pac-10 Conference champ Stanford had 22 against the Bruins in the tournament title game last weekend.
“We’re going to have some turnovers, but we can’t have a bunch of turnovers that turn into layups,” Selvig said.
UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell said the game plan begins with full-court pressure.
“For us it’s going to be about disrupting and really getting after their guard play,” Caldwell said. “That’s been our defensive philosophy the entire season. We want to be the one that comes out more aggressive, dictating through our defense and board play the tempo of the game.”
The Grizzlies will have to counter UCLA’s pressure as a unit, not individuals, Selvig said.
“(Pressure) creates a whole bunch of their offense,” Selvig said. “We need to be composed. You need to have a team concept against it.”
A 14th seed has never beaten a No. 3 in tournament history. Montana sophomore Katie Baker, a former Lake City standout, hopes to change that today.
“UCLA is a great team, but we’ve done a lot to get here,” Baker said. “It’s not going to be easy. They’re a great, great team. It’s going to take belief. A lot of it is mental and just overcoming ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re playing UCLA, the Bruins’ … like (we’re) the little kids in the candy store … awestruck.”
Montana is known for its defense, too, so Selvig believes the Grizzlies can cause UCLA some fits.
“I think we have a chance,” Selvig said. “This team can guard people. I’ve had better basketball teams, but I’m not sure I’ve had teams that can necessarily play better defense than they’re playing right now. That’s my hope.”