ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia Lady Bulldogs are motivated to avoid another early exit from the NCAA Tournament.
They’re still feeling the sting of last year’s rare first-round loss to Marist. Georgia’s long tournament history includes 19 trips to the Round of 16.
Georgia is the No. 4 seed – just like last year – and plays Montana on Saturday in Spokane, Wash.
Senior forward Jasmine Hassell said the pain of last year’s first-round loss has not been forgotten.
“It was heart-breaking because you’re so used to going to the Sweet 16,” Hassell said Wednesday. “We want to go past the Sweet 16 this year.”
Also Saturday, in the Norfolk Regional, South Carolina takes on South Dakota State.
Georgia is making its 30th NCAA Tournament appearance in 34 seasons with coach Andy Landers. The Lady Bulldogs have advanced to five Final Fours but have never won the championship.
This year’s senior class made back-to-back appearances to the Round of 16 in 2010 and 2011.
“I would say the lesson we learned from last year is you can’t overlook anyone, no matter what conference they come from, no matter what their ranking is or record is,” said senior guard Jasmine James. “A good team is a good team. You can’t overlook them.
“You’re going to have to go in and compete hard for 40 minutes, no matter who the team is. I think that is definitely something we were able to take away from last year.”
James said Georgia players last season might have presumed they would win at least two NCAA Tournament games.
“You’re used to getting to the Sweet 16,” James said. “It’s kind of expected, like it’s what you do. Then to go out in the first round was kind of like ‘Whoa.’ ”
Georgia (25-6) also is motivated by its 60-38 loss to Kentucky on March 9 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals.
The Lady Bulldogs opened the SEC Tournament with one of their best performances of the season in a 71-53 win over Louisiana State University before being overwhelmed in the second half of the loss against Kentucky.
“The LSU game, we played very well but we dwelled on it a little bit too long and lost our focus for the Kentucky game,” James said.
“We’ve seen glimpses of how good we can be. We’ve also seen glimpses of how bad we can be. So one of the things we just really need to do is focus and hold each other accountable.”
Landers said any temptation to look past the NCAA first-round game against Montana (24-7) should have been “self-corrected” by last year’s loss to Marist. It was only the third time in the past decade Georgia did not reach the round of 16.
“It bothers me to have to even think about the question,” Landers said before referring to Kentucky’s loss to Robert Morris on Tuesday night in the men’s NIT.
“You’re in the national tournament,” he said. “You watch these games all the time. Kentucky got beat by Robert Morris. Come on. You’ve got to play. That any team would take another team for granted and not give them the respect is foreign to me.”
Georgia beat Montana, the Big Sky champion, 74-46 in the opening round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament.