BOZEMAN — Washington guard Kelsey Plum is a luminary in the world of women’s basketball. Montana State’s Riley Nordgaard knows this to be true.
That’s why, after learning she and the No. 14-seeded Bobcats will play the third-seeded Huskies in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday at the UW campus in Seattle, Nordgaard took a moment to make light of the prospect of playing against Plum, who is the all-time leading scorer in Division I.
“I was joking with Hannah (Caudill). I said, ‘Maybe I can get a selfie with her before the game or something,’” Nordgaard said with a laugh.
“That girl is a phenomenal scorer. It will just be cool to be in the presence of one of the best basketball players of my generation.”
Nordgaard’s lighthearted mood was undoubtedly brought on by the hoopla that swept through a selection show watch party inside a jam-packed ballroom Monday at MSU’s Strand Union Building, during which the Bobcats found out their tournament destination.
But the Bobcats, champions of the Big Sky Conference, can’t be star-struck come game time. Coach Tricia Binford knows this to be true.
The time for celebrating their first trip to the NCAA tournament in 24 years is officially on pause. Binford and her team will now get down to the business of formulating a game plan to contain Plum and put themselves in a position to compete.
After all that’s happened in the past week, is it easier said than done?
“The biggest thing is just emotionally getting (the players) to a place where they’re not exhausted. We need them to get rested, be able lock-in and get a great game plan together,” Binford said.
“This is a new experience, but at the same time we want to put our best foot forward and play our best game.”
The game against Washington will be a rematch of the Bobcats' most recent NCAA tournament appearance in 1993.
MSU earned the Big Sky Conference's automatic bid to the tourney by virtue of a 62-56 victory over Idaho State in the Big Sky tournament championship game Saturday in Reno, Nevada.
The Bobcats (25-6) won their second consecutive regular-season conference championship this season, and set a program record for single-season victories.
MSU has a recent history with the Huskies (27-5), having played them three seasons ago when Plum was a freshman. The Bobcats lost that game 80-63 in Seattle, and Plum had 19 points.
This season, Plum is averaging an NCAA-best 31.7 points per game, and had single-game scoring performances of 36, 39 (twice), 44 (four times) and 57 along the way. To date, Plum has 3,431 career points.
“She’s really developed her game. So talented and very fun to watch,” Binford said. “We’ve watched her a couple times on TV just to watch her, in particular. She is so exciting to watch. We’re hoping not to make her as exciting.”
“I’ve (never) played in a game of this stature,” Nordgaard said. “I personally will attack it the same way I do any other game, any other opponent. I think we’ll respond appropriately. We plan on giving them one of our best games this year.”
Plum isn’t the Huskies’ only weapon. They also boast 6-foot-2 Chantel Osahor, who averages 15.7 points per game and is the all-time leading rebounder in Washington history.
Interesting side note: Montana State assistant coach Kati Burrows coached Osahor in the high school ranks in Phoenix, Arizona.
“It’s not (a team) I’ve been watching game film after game film on,” Binford said. “We’ll for sure have to do our homework. But when you have two superstars like that everybody’s pretty aware of them in the Northwest.”
The game, which is part of the Oklahoma City region, tips off at UW’s Hec Edmundson Pavilion at 7 p.m. Mountain time. No. 6 seed Oklahoma will face No. 11 seed Gonzaga there on Saturday as well. That contest begins at 4:30.