Alyssa Smith

Alyssa Smith (00) is congratulated by the Montana bench as she leaves the game against Northern Colorado late in the second half during the Big Sky Conference tournament in Missoula on Saturday.

MISSOULA -- The jubilant roar made it real obvious.

The Montana women’s basketball team is thrilled to be headed to Spokane for its NCAA tournament opener on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Mountain time. The 13th-seeded Lady Griz, who broke into celebration Monday night when the announcement was made on ESPN, will play fourth-seeded Georgia at McCarthey Athletic Center.

“I’m just thrilled,” said Montana senior post Katie Baker, who hails from nearby Coeur d’ Alene. “I grew up there. I had tickets to Gonzaga games all the time as a little girl.

“That place is really special to me and it’s a great environment. Last time we went, even the Gonzaga fans stayed and watched our game and they were cheering for us.”

Montana is returning the scene of its NCAA nail-biter two seasons ago when it put a scare into No. 8-ranked UCLA before losing, 55-47. The Lady Griz (24-7) have a history with the Bulldogs (25-6), losing 74-46 on Georgia’s home court 13 years ago in the Big Dance.

“Where we’re playing is something to be excited about,” Montana coach Robin Selvig said. “Who we’re playing isn’t necessarily something to be excited about.

“We know we’re going to get somebody great and we’re going to be an underdog going in. But I like our team.”

Selvig, whose squad gathered for the selection show at the Press Box in Missoula, said it makes things easier when his team can take a three and a half hour bus ride to its tourney destination rather than flying. When a flight is involved, teams are at the mercy of the NCAA logistically.

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“The main thing is the gals are excited because they were concerned about their families, who want to come watch them,” the coach said. “Lots of our kids are from the Northwest and for families to try to get these (arrangements) made in a week, it can be very expensive and tough to do when you have to fly.

“The problem is Gonzaga buys all the tickets. Last time, two years ago, we were there we could have had a lot more tickets.”

Selvig was satisfied with Montana’s seeding (13) and proud of the fact his team finished with an RPI rating of 63. Two years ago the Lady Griz were a 14 seed.

“My mindset is a little bit different this time,” said Montana senior Alyssa Smith, a three-year starter. “Having played in the NCAA tournament before and last time only losing to UCLA by eight points ... Last time the four of us seniors were sophomores and we had a bright-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights kind of a look.

“I think we all have a different mindset this time. We’ve had a lot of awesome moments as a team this year. We’re going to play the best we can and really hard like we usually do. And if we all play really well, all buy into the roles we have, we have a pretty good shot of giving them a pretty good game.”

Montana is trying to end a string of 10 straight losses in the NCAA tournament dating back to 1995. The Lady Griz have made 20 appearances in the Big Dance and posted a record of 6-19, with four of the wins coming in Missoula.

Georgia, ranked 14th in the latest Associated Press poll, is coached by veteran Andy Landers. His team hasn’t played since March 9 when it dropped a 60-38 decision to Kentucky in the semifinal round of the SEC tournament.

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