Georgia uses big run to pull away from Montana in tourney opener

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Montana was on the cusp of rallying from a double-digit deficit to take the lead, giving Georgia a real scare.

All it took was one missed opportunity and a few defensive stands by Georgia to send the Lady Griz to a deficit they could not overcome.

"All of a sudden they scored quick," Montana coach Robin Selvig said. "I mean, they made plays when we had a little momentum going and you have to give them credit. They have a lot of weapons and play hard."

Jasmine Hassell scored 16 points, Shacobia Barbee added 13 and fourth-seeded Georgia used its defense to go on a big run midway through the second half and pull away for a 70-50 win on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Jasmine James added 11 points for the Lady Bulldogs (26-6), who will face No. 5 seed Iowa State in the second round on Monday night.

Torry Hill led 13th-seeded Montana (24-8) with 11 points. But on a night the Lady Griz needed to hit all their open looks, they shot just 29 percent and committed 20 turnovers.

"They just made some plays, some big plays and basketball is a game of runs," Montana's Katie Baker said. "They got a big momentum swing their way, a couple of fast breaks, they hit a couple big shots, couple of big 3s and just like that they are ahead again."

Georgia led 38-36 with 15 minutes remaining before going on a 21-6 run to grab control and earn a bit of redemption after being upset by Marist in the first round a year ago.

"I was really pleased with the way our basketball team defended from the beginning of the game to the end of the game and the desired effect of that defense probably set in somewhere around the 13-minute mark there in the second half," Georgia coach Andy Landers said. "I feel like we started to benefit from the playing it the way we played it."

The matchup featured two of the most successful coaches in women's college basketball. Selvig and Landers had combined for 1,618 wins at their respective schools coming into Saturday's game and Selvig was looking for an upset that would move him within one victory of joining Landers in the 800-win club.

That upset bid was tossed aside by Georgia's impressive second-half charge, mostly thanks to the Lady Bulldogs' defense. Georgia allowed just 53.3 points per game during the regular season, among the best in the country.

The stout defense was on display as the Lady Bulldogs took command, holding Montana to just two field goals in a 12-minute span. Montana's drought was finally broken when Hannah Doran hit a 3-pointer with 2:35 left.

Montana became the 15th team to score 50 points or less against the Lady Bulldogs this season.

"They're just bigger, stronger and faster and we're not used to playing those type of girls," Hill said.

Before Georgia ran away, the Lady Griz had a chance to take the lead early in the second half.

Alyssa Smith hit a 3 as Montana closed to 32-28, the closest it had been since it was 8-4. After Hassell split a pair of free throws, Baker hit a 17-footer and the Lady Griz were within three. Baker then split a pair of free throws and Georgia's lead was just 33-31.

Tiaria Griffin answered with a corner 3-pointer and Barbee scored on a drive to push the lead back to seven, but Baker scored and Jordan Sullivan hit a 3. Montana committed a turnover with a chance to pull even or take the lead.

That proved to be as close as the Lady Griz would get. Following a timeout, Georgia ran off 13 of the next 17 points to take a 51-40 lead with 9:10 remaining. Anne Marie Armstrong hit a corner 3-pointer, Erika Ford scored off a steal and Tamika Willis scored in the lane to extend the lead to eight. James then hit a pair of short jumpers and Willis scored underneath to run the advantage to double digits.

"We didn't convert as well as they did, we didn't score off the steals, we didn't score off of their turnovers and that was a huge thing for us," Smith said. "It's hard to come back against a team like that, especially when we do dig ourselves a hole. We have to be able to convert, which we weren't able to do tonight."