MISSOULA -- Their mutual respect helps you appreciate both a little more.
Montana women’s basketball coach Robin Selvig can’t say enough good things about his veteran counterpart from Georgia, Andy Landers. When the former found out his team was playing the Bulldogs in an NCAA tournament opener on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in Spokane, Landers was foremost on his mind.
Together Selvig and Landers have a combined 69 years of experience at their current programs. Each is among the top six winningest active Division I women’s coaches, with Selvig in sixth at 798 victories and Landers in fifth with 820.
Needless to say, Saturday’s game has an intriguing subplot. Unfortunately for the Lady Griz, there’s not much chance of sneaking up on the 14th-ranked Bulldogs.
“Robin Selvig is a class act,” Landers said from his home base in Athens, Ga. “Anybody who has coached at the same place that long, it says a lot. First of all, it says the people in his community have a great deal of respect for him. The people in his corner have a lot of respect for him.
“There are a lot of people who, as time goes on, find a way to choke themselves out. Not only has he done well, he’s prospered over a long period of time. Then you look at the success that his teams have earned on the court, the winning percentage ... All that has put it among the top 10 most consistent basketball programs in the country.”
If it sounds like Landers is complimenting his counterpart just to be nice, you’re misinterpreting. He’s seen enough of the 13th-seeded Lady Griz (24-7) to realize his fourth-seeded Bulldogs (25-6) are in for a battle.
“His teams are always well coached, always play hard and always are fundamentally sound,” Landers said. “From what I’ve seen on tape, this team is all that: They’re aggressive, they play hard, they play well together, they come to play, they don’t come to watch.
“They’re not going to be part of the show or watch the show. They’re coming to be the show.”
Likewise, Selvig has watched enough tape on Georgia to know his squad has an uphill climb.
“They’re really good defensively,” he said. “They gave up 53 points a game and they play in the SEC. That tells you.
“They’ve got good athletes, they’re pretty balanced. They’ve got a really impressive post player (6-foot-2 senior Jasmine Hassell) and real quick guards.”
The Bulldogs, who have reached the Final Four five times, employ both man-to-man and zone defensive schemes. They’re especially good at applying pressure in the halfcourt.
“I’d like to think we’ve played against some pretty quick teams this year, but nobody probably as athletic as these guys,” Selvig said. “Rebounding is the thing that comes to mind always. They’re strong, they’re athletic, and they’re a strong rebounding team.
“When you step up and go against SEC type athletes, rebounding is a challenge. Last time we were in the NCAA tournament (in 2011) against UCLA that was the area where we broke even and it gave us a chance.”
While Montana hasn’t had much luck in the Big Dance lately there is reason to be optimistic. Selvig has a senior-dominated squad that plays salty defense and has gone 2-1 against NCAA-qualifying teams this season.
That record includes two wins over Idaho, a No. 16 seed, and a loss to Villanova, a No. 9 seed. In addition, the Lady Griz went 5-2 during the regular season against teams that have reached the WNIT.
Those numbers aside, Montana’s skipper will enter Saturday’s game with eyes wide open.
“We have to play crazy hard and have them maybe not have a great game,” Selvig said. “A lot of things go into it and we have to cause them to not have a great game.”
NOTES: Saturday’s game will be aired on ESPN2 ... Georgia finished third in the SEC behind 10th-ranked Tennessee and 7th-ranked Kentucky. The Bulldogs are one of seven SEC teams that made the Big Dance ... Among the four teams playing in Spokane, Georgia has the highest pre-tournament RPI at 19. Iowa State has an RPI of 24, Gonzaga 31 and Montana 63.