The Georgia women’s basketball team is enjoying its streak of 19 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
However, it’s not enjoying the notion that early exits could become the new trend after last year’s first-round loss to Marist.
“We’re not taking anything for granted, especially after what happened last year,” Georgia guard Khaalidah Miller said. “Nobody expected that to happen. Everybody’s going into the tournament ready, no matter what seed the team is that we’re playing. We know that anything can happen, like last year.”
Fourth-seeded Georgia (25-6) will play 13th-seeded Montana (24-7) in the first round of the NCAA tournament’s Spokane Regional beginning at about 6:30 p.m. today in the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash. Tonight’s winner will face the winner between fifth-seeded Iowa State (23-8) and 12th-seeded Gonzaga (27-5) in the second round on Monday.
“The lesson learned from last year in the NCAA tournament is you can’t overlook anyone,” Georgia guard Jasmine James said. “No matter what conference they come from, no matter what their ranking is or what their record is, it’s a good team and you can’t overlook them. We go in understanding that you’re going to have to play hard and you’re going to have to compete hard for 40 minutes, no matter who the team is. That’s definitely something we were able to take away from last year.”
In 2012, Georgia also rode a No. 4 seeding into the tournament. But the Lady Bulldogs got bounced in the first round by 13th-seed Marist, 76-70. The early exit came as a shock to a junior-dominated team that had made the second weekend the two previous NCAA tournaments.
“I’d definitely say that it got to us,” James said. “When you’re basically used to getting to the Sweet 16, it’s kind of expected. This is what you do. Then to go out and lose the game in the first round, it’s kind of, ‘Whoa.’ It wakes you up a little bit. It makes you understand that you took what it takes to get to the Sweet 16 the two years before that for granted. It also makes you understand that every night you’re going to have to go out and you’re going to have to play hard. Nobody’s just going to give you anything. They’re all out there for the same thing, and that’s to come away with a win.”
The three juniors and one sophomore who started against Marist last year are now seniors and a junior. Georgia has a much more experienced leading edge with three seniors who have played heavy minutes for four years — James, Jasmine Hassell and Anne Marie Armstrong.
“Of course that’s motivation,” Hassell said. “Who wants to get put out in the first round? It was heart-breaking because you’re so used to going to the Sweet 16.”
Although many of the same faces are back from last year, the Lady Bulldogs look much different. An influx of freshmen has give Georgia much more depth than in recent years. Two of those freshmen, Shacobia Barbee and Tiaria Griffin, have stepped into the starting guard lineup.
“I’m a big believer in you start over,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said. “We’re not playing Marist. It would be different if we were playing Marist. It’s a new tournament, a new year and a new team. Let’s do a better job of getting ready. Let’s do a better job of playing and coaching. Let’s do the best we can do.”
This year Georgia hopes that the early exit from last year will drive home lessons about the dangers of overlooking opponents from non-major conferences.
“That was a big shocker for us,” Miller said. “We’re still at a loss for words after that game. This year we told the freshmen plenty of times to be prepared because they watched it on TV. They saw what happened. Anything can happen. It’s the NCAA Tournament and there’s always a few upsets.”
Georgia vs. Montana
When: Approximately 6:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.
Where: McCarthey Athletic Center, Spokane, Wash. Coliseum.
Radio: Broadcast starts on 103.7 FM and switches to WRFC 960-AM after the Georgia-Alabama baseball game.
Records: Georgia is 26-6, Montana is 24-7.
Seedings: Georgia is No. 4 in Spokane Regional, Montana is No. 13.
How they got here: Georgia received an at-large bid after tying for third in the Southeastern Conference regular season and making the league tournament semifinals. Montana finished first in the Big Sky Conference’s regular season and took the automatic bid by the conference tournament.
What’s next: Saturday’s winner will play the winner between No. 5-seeded Iowa State (23-8) and No. 12-seeded and host Gonzaga (27-5) in the second round on Monday.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
Montana: G Torry Hill (Jr., 5-7, 6.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg); G Kenzie De Boer (Sr., 5-11, 13.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg); F Alyssa Smith (Sr., 6-0, 4.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg); F Jordan Sullivan (Jr., 6-2, 6.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg); F Katie Baker (Sr., 6-0, 13.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg).
Georgia: G Jasmine James (Sr., 5-9, 10.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Tiaria Griffin (Fr., 5-7, 7.2 ppg 2.9 rpg); G Shacobia Barbee (Fr., 5-10, 6.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg); F Anne Marie Armstrong (Sr., 6-3, 6.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg); F Jasmine Hassell (Sr., 6-2, 12.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg).
NOTEWORTHY: This is Georgia’s ninth appearance in a western regional. The Lady Bulldogs advanced out of the West to the 1985 Final Four. … Georgia and Montana have combined for 50 NCAA bids since the tournament began in 1982 (30 by Georgia and 20 by Montana). … Georgia’s Andy Landers and Montana’s Robin Selvig have combined for 69 seasons at their current schools and they have 1,618 wins (820 by Landers, 798 by Selvig). … Georgia has four seniors who have played a combined 15 NCAA tournament games. The Lady Bulldogs also have five freshman who have never played in the tournament. … Montana’s Katie Baker is a three-time, first-team All-Big Sky Conference performer and the league MVP this season. … Montana has lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in its last nine appearances. … Montana is 2-1 against NCAA Tournament teams this year. It lost to Villanova at a holiday tournament at UNLV and beat WAC champion Idaho twice.