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UCLA WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

UCLA women try to concentrate on task at hand — beating Montana

Third-seeded Bruins play Big Sky Conference winners Saturday and don't want to take them for granted as they play close to home in Spokane, Wash. Potential future opponents include Gonzaga, Stanford.

March 16, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • UCLA Coach Nikki Caldwell knows the Bruins can't afford to underestimate Montana in their NCAA tournament opener on Saturday.
UCLA Coach Nikki Caldwell knows the Bruins can't afford to underestimate… (Chris Pietsch / Associated…)

Hometown Gonzaga probably will be waiting in the second round.

And Pacific 10 Conference champion Stanford almost certainly will advance to the Spokane Regional final.

However, UCLA cannot concern itself with either potential opponent unless it gets past Montana in the first round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

The third-seeded Bruins (27-4) play 14th-seeded Montana (18-14) on Saturday at Spokane, Wash.

Bruins Coach Nikki Caldwell has had a few days to study tape of Montana, which won the Big Sky Conference tournament.

Montana got off to a 3-8 start and entered its conference tournament having lost three of its last four games. But Montana defeated Idaho State, Northern Colorado and Portland State to earn the Big Sky's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.

"I see a team that is going to be inspired to play," Caldwell said Wednesday after practice at Pauley Pavilion. "We're going to have to not take them for granted. Just because they're not from one of the BCS conferences, you still have to respect your opponent."

The Bruins depart Thursday for Spokane and will practice Friday. If they win their first two games, they will return to Los Angeles on Monday night.

They would then travel back to Spokane on March 24 for a regional semifinal March 26.

UCLA wasn't thrilled with an NCAA tournament selection committee that did not reward it with a No. 2 seeding, placed them in the same regional with Stanford, and also put them on course for a matchup against Gonzaga on Gonzaga's home court.

Montana also will enjoy something of a home-court advantage against the Bruins at the 6,000-seat McCarthey Athletic Center.

"Obviously, just making the tournament was big in itself, but we all were deep down praying that it would be at Spokane so we could have our friends and family and fans come over," Montana senior forward Sarah Ena told the Missoulian this week. "We're used to playing in the Spokane area, so it makes traveling easier. That was definitely a big relief when we saw our name under the Spokane bracket."

Montana Coach Robin Selvig told the Missoulian: "It's Spokane — family, friends, home court basically. Just logistically that's a nice thing.

"We've got ticket problems because Gonzaga doesn't hold that much. We may have a couple thousand fans easy."

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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