The University of Montana women’s basketball team is back at the scene of their last NCAA tournament visit – two years ago when, as a 14-seed, the Grizzlies came within a few whiskers of upsetting third-seeded UCLA.
Montana, one seed better this afternoon, hopes they have enough to knock off the Georgia Bulldogs, perennial NCAA qualifiers, at McCarthey Athletic Center.
For an upset to occur, it must begin with defense.
Georgia coach Andy Landers has studied Montana’s defenses. For good reason, too, he said.
“A lot of things make them effective on the defensive end,” Landers said. “They’re one of the few teams that tend to switch everything when they’re in man-to-man. Not many teams switch one through five. Most offenses aren’t designed to take advantages of switches. They’re designed to screen and get cutters open. If they choose to go to the zone it’s not your traditional zone. It’s a matchup zone. They require a different preparation and a different mind-set.”
Montana is allowing 55 points per game.
Montana coach Robin Selvig can guarantee one thing about the game: It will be physical from tipoff.
“It’s not a game for the meek and it hasn’t been for quite a few years,” Selvig said. “We have to be ready to battle. I like to think we have some versatility on defense. Georgia is a more versatile team because they can throw such different looks at you. This year for the first time we’ve been about 90 percent man and 10 percent zone. Hopefully we can find one that works.”
The Grizzlies understand Georgia is heavily favored. That’s just fine with Montana senior Katie Baker, a four-year standout from Lake City.
“We’re the underdogs, we have nothing to lose,” Baker said. “I think knowing that, playing like that, will really help us to our benefit. We just need to come out and play Montana basketball. We can’t play scared. We need to come out with a fight, play like it’s our last. So we have that underdog tone going for us.”
Offense could be difficult at times for Montana.
“What you’re not going to get on Georgia is any easy baskets,” Selvig said. “You’re probably not going to get transitions unless we get a steal or two. They’re so solid fundamentally … and have enough depth. They’re not going to get worn out.”
Selvig said his team, particularly his seniors, wanted to get back to Spokane this year.
“They lived and died to get back here,” Selvig said. “I think we’ll get a heckuva effort out of them.”
Georgia values defense, too. The Bulldogs allow 53.3 ppg.
“We played defense well,” Georgia senior forward Jasmine Hassell said. “We’ve always had a hunger playing defense. Defense leads to offense. We just like doing that, and that’s what we hang our hats on.”
Senior guard Jasmine James agrees.
“It leads to easy offense for us,” James said. “If we don’t have a great offense, we understand that if we go to the other end and we get stops and steals and stuff like that, it may lead to easy points. Defense has been a big thing for us all year long and will continue to be as we work our way through the NCAA tournament.”