For the second time in four years, Georgia will begin the NCAA Tournament by taking a long trip to the West Coast.
Fourth-seeded Georgia (25-6) will play 13th-seeded Montana (27-3) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Spokane, Wash. The first game in the Spokane Regional will match fifth-seeded Iowa State (23-8) against the 12th-seeded host Gonzaga (27-5) at 4 p.m.
“It doesn’t matter where we go,” Georgia senior guard Jasmine James said. “It’s just a great thing to be in the tournament, period. It doesn’t matter where they send us, I feel like we do get really excited about it. We’re just looking forward to going out there and being ready to play.”
Georgia’s current group of seniors – James, Jasmine Hassell, Anne Marie Armstrong and Tamika Willis – were freshmen the last time the NCAA sent the Lady Bulldogs to the West Coast in 2010 . But Georgia has been to the western regionals nine times. Georgia advanced through the West to the 1985 Final Four.
“We’ve been as successful there as we have anywhere,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said. “The thing that I mind about it is it makes it difficult for our families and our fans. When I say difficult, most of them aren’t going to be able to go. But moreover, it’s hard to stay up and watch. That part I don’t like but the rest of it — you get out there, you’re by yourself and you can get focused. You don’t have a lot of peripheral things going on.”
South Carolina and coach Dawn Staley are heading to consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time in a decade.
The fourth-seeded Gamecocks (23-7) will open against South Dakota State (25-7) in the Norfolk regional. South Carolina last played in back-to-back NCAAs in 2002 and 2003. They reached the Round of 16 a season ago before losing to Stanford and Staley built on that run to make it back this winter.
South Carolina started 10-0 matching the best start in program history. It won a school record 11 games in the Southeastern Conference. And they did it with Staley’s trademark, in-your-face defensive style. They’ve given up just 49.5 points a game, the country’s fourth-best defense.
The Lady Bulldogs, who finished at No. 14 in the season’s final Associated Press poll, were knocked out in the first round by Marist last season.
Georgia has made the NCAA Tournament 19 consecutive seasons and 30 of the 32 times the NCAA Tournament has been played.
Georgia played Montana in the first round of the 2000 tournament in Athens, 74-46. Montana won the 2013 Big Sky Conference’s regular-season and tournament titles. The Grizzlies have advanced to the NCAA Tournament 20 times in the last 31 years, all under 34-year head coach Robin Selvig.
“It’s a great feeling to know you’re going,” Georgia freshman Shacobia Barbee said. “The whole time you’re growing up, you’ve watched the NCAA Tournament so to be an actual part of it, it’s just an honor. Georgia is known for going to the tournament and making an appearance in general so it’s a big thing. It’s huge. It’s great to know that you’re coming into a great program like this.”