SPOKANE — Jordan Sullivan has been eating her Wheaties lately.
Or at least that’s what she’ll tell you with a playful grin on her face. Too bad basketball, like life, isn’t quite that simple.
Whatever the reason, the University of Montana junior forward has played some of her best basketball of this month. In three games leading up Saturday’s NCAA tournament test against 14th-ranked Georgia at 4:30 p.m. in Spokane, she has averaged more than 10 points per game.
That’s a nice jump for someone who typically hovers around six a game, and scoring is not even the half of it. Every aspect of her game seems to be clicking.
“I feel like I’ve been trying to do the same things I’ve done all season, but maybe it’s just the sense of urgency that the season is coming to an end if we don’t step up,” the Sidney native said. “I definitely think the whole team has stepped up.
“Sometimes a shot will fall for you. Maybe it’s just timing that shots are falling for me, so it all seems like it’s better. Like I’ve said before, I love this time of the year and maybe it’s just showing.”
A big hoops fan who can be found watching the Grizzly men on one night and a high school game on another, Sullivan’s timing in Montana’s Big Sky tournament games last weekend was impeccable. She set a tone early against both Sacramento State and Northern Colorado with 3-point shots that ignited UM.
Her start last Friday against Sac State was memorable. The 6-foot-2 spark plug scored eight points, dished out two assists and tacked on a rebound, block and steal — all in the first five minutes. It knocked the air out of the Hornets — particularly her two 3-point goals in the first two minutes — and the Lady Griz steamrolled to a 74-53 win.
“She’s knocking down some shots, she’s not turning it over, she’s getting big rebounds and she’s doing a real nice job on defense,” Montana coach Robin Selvig said. “She’s just playing solid and mature.
“A lot of times how you’re doing on the (offensive) end affects you. But I think Jordy and this team are pretty good at not getting caught up on that. Jordy plays hard all the time. She’s just getting more experienced and she’s worked hard on her perimeter shot. She got us going both games last weekend.”
Of Sullivan’s 22 treys in 2012-13, five have come in the last three games. Her inside-outside game has helped open things up for Montana’s primary scorers, post Katie Baker and shooting guard Kenzie De Boer.
“I know that if I have an open shot I can hit it, and I just need to think that way,” Sullivan said. “We have to take those shots when we’re open because teams play good defense. It’s not like you have that many great opportunities.
“Just being confident to take the shot and confident it can go down, that’s something that has come with playing three years now.”
An accomplished swimmer whose specialty is the backstroke, Sullivan has a toughness about her. It compels her to hit the floor diving after loose balls and bravely step in front of a hard-charging opponent in hopes of drawing a charge.
“Her body takes a beating during the year,” noted Selvig, who is Sullivan’s uncle.
Asked to comment on her gritty style, Sullivan laughed.
“You know that’s just eastern Montana toughness,” she joked. “No, I was always taught to defend. That’s a huge part of the game. Then I got here and it was emphasized even more.
“It kind of runs in the family I guess (chuckle). Rob always says you’re going to play and it’s going to get crazy. Calls won’t go your way. But the team that can show better toughness is the one that can come out on top. When you have people around you setting that tone, it’s easy to get into that frame of mind.”
Being such a hoops fan, Sullivan couldn’t resist jumping on the Internet to scout Saturday’s foe. Her conclusion: The 13th-seeded Lady Griz (24-7) will have their hands full with the fourth-seeded Bulldogs (25-6).
“I was looking at their roster and looking at the girls my size and it’s like, besides basketball these girls are Division I volleyball recruits, they were 55-second 400-meter runners.
“I don’t think we’ll match their athleticism. You have to outsmart and defend those kinds of teams. If you can just go with a game plan that is more strategic toward maybe their weakness, try to focus on attacking weaknesses ... they have more experience in this spot but we have great things going for us, too. I’m thrilled for the matchup.”
Sullivan can find comfort in the fact Saturday is not her first rodeo. She played for almost a half in Montana’s 55-47 loss to UCLA in the Big Dance two years ago in Spokane.
“This time is different,” she said. “You can talk and be confident that you can go be the underdog and win the game, but I can really tell the upperclassmen are ready.
“They played in a game like this before. That experience and coming off a pretty good season ending like we’ve had, it makes a difference. I think there’s more of a real sense of we can go win a game. That’s the goal. Let’s not stop here.”