By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
SPOKANE, Wash. — Inside his office Friday morning, while other staff members were sitting in meetings, Gonzaga’s Kelly Graves pulled together fellow coaches Robin Selvig of Montana, Andy Landers of Georgia and Bill Fennelly of Iowa State to pose for a picture.
That was only 2,614 combined career victories at all levels, and 71 NCAA tournament appearances gathered together inside the McCarthy Athletic Center, an impressive collection of coaching success that would be hard to match at any other site for the first weekend of the NCAA women’s tournament.
“Three Hall of Fame coaches really. I feel like the schmuck of the group,” Graves said. “People that I look up to. It was humbling to have them all there. It was unique just to have the chance to talk for a little bit.”
That depth of coaching experience and success will be on display Saturday when No. 12 seed Gonzaga faces fifth-seeded Iowa State and No. 4 seed Georgia takes on 13th-seeded Montana in the first round of the Spokane Regional.
While Graves (353 wins) and Fennelly (561 wins) deserve praise for the jobs they’ve done at Gonzaga and Iowa State, respectively, the matchup between Georgia and Montana features two of the longest-tenured coaches in women’s basketball.
Selvig (798 wins) and Landers (820 wins at Georgia) have 1,618 wins between them at their current schools in a combined 69 seasons of coaching. They are among the elite of women’s basketball with at least 700 career wins and Selvig needs only two more to join Landers in the 800-win club.
Selvig may be hard-pressed to get those two wins this weekend. Montana hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1995 and is facing a Lady Bulldogs squad still angry after getting bounced in the first round a year ago by Marist.
“I have great respect for him. The job that he’s done at Montana commands respect,” Landers said. “When someone has been able to stay at a place and maintain a high level of competitiveness as long as he has, it makes a tremendous statement about him as a person. Most of us mess it up somewhere along the way. Robin is just a class guy.”
For Iowa State (23-8) and Georgia (25-6), this tournament trip is about redemption after being bounced in the first round a year ago.
Iowa State faces the most difficult challenge and not much of a reward for winning 23 games and reaching the Big 12 Conference tournament title game, being asked to face Gonzaga (27-5) on its home floor. Gonzaga has reached the round of 16 the past three seasons and the last two years has used its home court to propel the Bulldogs. Last season, Gonzaga pulled off upsets of Rutgers and Miami to reach the regional semifinals.
Two years ago, as a No. 11 seed, the Bulldogs knocked off Iowa, UCLA and Louisville to reach the regional final, where their run ended against Stanford. That tourney run featured the Bulldogs playing the first two rounds on its home floor, followed by the regional across town at the Spokane Arena.
That’s the same scenario in front of Gonzaga again this year.
“We talked about it, it’s been mentioned, but we don’t want to focus on anything except this game tomorrow,” said Gonzaga guard Taelor Karr, the West Coast Conference player of the year. “You’re not guaranteed anything but tomorrow’s game. We have to go play hard. If we get that done, we work on Monday.”
Iowa State might be the most difficult first-round opponent the Bulldogs have drawn during their recent run. The Cyclones feature size on the front line that Gonzaga rarely sees outside of non-conference games. No one for Iowa State is better than all-Big 12 selection Hallie Christofferson, who has scored more than 20 points per game 11 times this season. She’s been getting help lately from 6-foot-7 center Anna Prins, who is averaging 20.3 points in her last four games, including a career-high 32 against Oklahoma in the Big 12 semifinals.
Graves and Fennelly see a lot of similarities in how the other plays. Iowa State just gets the added difficulty of playing a road game.
“The night of the selection, I probably had 20 text messages saying congratulations, and you got a terrible draw,” Fennelly said. “It is what it is. We’re not going to make any excuses for it.”
Montana’s task will be trying to find some offense against one of the better defensive teams in the country. The Lady Bulldogs allowed just 53.3 points per game during the season and held 14 opponents to 50 points or less. Whether Montana can hang around will depend on its ability to hit shots from the perimeter. The Lady Griz averaged nearly six 3-pointers per game and nine times made at least seven in a game — including 12 3s in a win at Southern Utah. Their record in those games: 7-2.
Two years ago in this same building, the Lady Griz challenged UCLA to the end before falling 55-47.
“Everyone has a role on this team and everyone has owned it,” Montana’s Katie Baker said. “What’s great about this team, there is no one person carrying the team. Everyone contributes and has a special part.”