Kelsey Plum

Montana State will try to slow Washington's Kelsey Plum, the all-time leading scorer in Division I women's basketball.

Associated Press

BOZEMAN — Montana State coach Tricia Binford has been immersed in women’s basketball for more than 25 years, and in that time she’s seen just about all there is to see.

Binford was a hall of fame guard at Boise State, she had a serviceable WNBA career ... she was even coached briefly by legendary Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma at a U.S. Olympic event in 1993.

But an uncommon experience awaits Binford and the Bobcats (25-6) as they prepare for the challenge of facing Washington (27-5) in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday on the Huskies’ home court in Seattle.

The game within the game? Trying to contain UW’s Kelsey Plum, the greatest scorer in the history of Division I.

It’s the Bobcats’ first trip to the national tournament in 24 years, and they’ve become the toast of the town since winning the Big Sky Conference championship last week in Reno, Nevada.

This is a new experience, and the team has soaked it in. But the task ahead is great. MSU has seen Plum, so Binford knows: In the world of women’s basketball, she is as good as they come.

“One of the best I’ve ever seen,” Binford said this week. “To see what she’s done to her game, she’s really put herself at a level where she will be an incredible WNBA presence, just because of how well she’s developed, not only from the fitness aspect but also how effective she is off the dribble.

“She’s got a super I.Q. For sure one of the best I’ve seen.”

The Bobcats faced Washington and Plum, a senior guard from Poway, California, in an early-season game three years ago, but only got a taste of her prominence. Plum, then a freshman, scored 19 points in the Huskies’ 83-60 victory.

Plum has raised her game to another strata since then, and to date has scored 3,431 career points. She had a Pac-12 record 57 in UW’s regular-season finale against Utah, pushing her past Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles (1998-2001) for D-I's all-time scoring mark.

Entering Saturday, Plum is averaging 31.7 points, 4.7 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game this season. She was chosen national player of the year by espnW.

It’s a very real fact that Plum is looked up to and admired by members of the Montana State team. But Binford will try to harness her group to stay in the moment, to not become star-struck.

And it’s not just Plum they have to worry about. The Huskies also boast the leading rebounder in the nation, 6-foot-2 Chantel Osahor, among other top-level players.

“It’s going to be a very tough game,” junior guard Delany Junkermier said. “We seriously just have to play all out, play like it’s our last game. We have nothing to lose and we’re going into it fired up.

“We’re beyond thrilled that we have the opportunity. We’re just super excited we get the chance.”

Defense aside, how the Bobcats perform on offense — league MVP Peyton Ferris, all-conference forward Riley Nordgaard and Co. — will also determine their fate. Binford admitted that her team wasn’t firing on all cylinders in Reno, but it was still able to grind out three wins.

MSU can’t afford stage fright now. Plum and Washington, the No. 3 seed in the Oklahoma City region, are heavily favored against the 14th-seeded Bobcats, “as they should be,” Binford said.

Oddsmakers had the Huskies as 22-point favorites Wednesday.

“I think maybe the last time we were considered the underdog was against Utah” on Nov. 12, Binford offered. “So we can take a little bit of pressure off our shoulders. But the conversation we’ve had is that we’ve got to go in there and be settled in order to execute what we want to do.

“We can’t go into that environment and be overwhelmed by playing the best scoring guard in the nation and the best rebounder in the nation, especially against the crowd noise we’re going to experience. We’ve got to really get ourselves going early to give ourselves a chance.”

The game will be played 24 years to the day since MSU’s last NCAA tournament appearance in 1993 — also against Washington, an 80-51 loss.

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MSU Bobcats Reporter

Sportswriter for The Billings Gazette covering Montana State University athletics.