STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — When the bracket came out, Montana State coach Tricia Binford told her players they were absolutely considered underdogs and she felt like one, too.
On the opposite bench Friday night for the 16th-seeded Bobcats will be defending national champion Stanford and Hall of Famer Tara VanDerveer, the winningest women’s basketball coach of all time.
While Stanford looks to begin defense of its title, Montana State junior forward Kola Bad Bear will make a name for herself as a star Native American player on college basketball’s big stage taking great pride in representing the Crow Tribe.
“I told the kids in film, ‘You’re the underdog and I’m also the underdog. We’re all the underdog here,’” Binford said Thursday, adding of VanDerveer. “But what a great opportunity. So much respect for who she is, what she’s done as a mentor and the talented team she’s coached.”
Montana State’s goal now is to give Stanford a great game.
The Cardinal are back in familiar territory on campus this March, hosting at Maples Pavilion. Stanford (28-3) has momentum after a 16-0 run through the Pac-12 regular-season and conference tournament to face the Bobcats program (22-12) making its third NCAA Tournament appearance.
“Nothing succeeds like success,” VanDerveer said. “When you’ve been successful you can lean on that success.”
In the first game Friday on The Farm, No. 8 Kansas is back in the bracket for the first time since 2013 and will take on ninth-seeded Georgia Tech. It’s the first matchup between the schools after both earned at-large berths.
Montana State beat Northern Arizona 75-64 for the Big Sky Tournament title, the program’s fourth in seven years under Binford.
The Bobcats are led by Darian White’s 15.9 points and she has scored in double figures 30 times.
Stanford realizes it must keep doing all the little things, learning from last year’s run to the first title since 1992 for the program.
“I think it’s really important, just kind of having that in the back of our minds, what we’re capable of doing and what we know we can do,” Francesca Belibi said. “So it’s a new step and something we have to prepare for differently and continue to prepare for, so it’s nice to be able to carry that momentum.”
GEORGIA TECH vs. KANSAS
A 57-44 win against Connecticut in December did so much for Georgia Tech.
“It was a huge confidence booster, especially, back in December,” said Lotta-Maj Lahtinen, one of four Yellow Jackets averaging double figures, at 11 points per game. “I think that’s what kind of helped us kick off with the season.”
Last March, Georgia Tech (21-10) reached the Sweet 16 for the second time in program history and hopes to make another special run. The school reached six straight NCAA Tournaments from 2007-2012.
The Jayhawks’ international roster features women from the Republic of North Macedonia, Croatia, Greece, Sweden, Denmark and Canada. Taiyanna Jackson, a 6-foot-6 junior center, has a single-season school record of 90 blocked shots entering tournament play.
Kansas (20-9) faced a daunting final few weeks leading into the tournament: taking on Iowa State, Baylor, Texas then Oklahoma twice.
Talk about great preparation for March Madness.
“We had probably the most difficult schedule down the stretch in the country,” Big 12 Coach of the Year Brandon Schneider said.
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