Montana State had a good season. The Bobcats were 14-6 in the Big Sky, finishing second in the league, and won the conference tournament without too much difficulty after regular-season champion Idaho State got knocked out in the quarterfinals.
This wasn’t some fluke trip to the NCAA Tournament for a group of women who got on a heater to clinch an automatic bid. They might have lost by 22 to the one ranked team they played this season, BYU, but Montana State certainly deserved to be in the field.
But nobody deserves what happened to Montana State on Friday night, as the No. 16 seed in the Spokane Regional had to travel to Stanford to face the defending national champions, a Cardinal program that hasn’t lost to anything but a No. 1 seed in March since 2016, and has been in every Sweet 16 since 2008.
Serving notice to the rest of the country about how they’re entering this tournament, the Cardinal made history in their first-round game, and the Bobcats were the unfortunate team that happened to be on the other end of it.
Stanford won the opening tip, but Kola Bad Bear stole the ball from Cameron Brink, and… that was as good as things got for Montana State. Brink blocked a Darian White shot, made a layup at the other end off an assist from Lexie Hull, and the Cardinal were off and running. By the end of the first quarter, it was 20-0 – the first time in tournament history that a team pitched a shutout in a game’s opening quarter. Stanford made it 23-0 before the Bobcats finally got on the board with a Taylor Janssen shot, 43 seconds into the second quarter, and the rest of the game was just a march (including a Francesca Belibi dunk) to the inevitable Stanford victory, with a final score of 78-37.
South Carolina was the first team to hold a tournament opponent scoreless for a quarter, blanking Texas in the final frame of their Elite Eight matchup last year. And the Gamecocks set their own defensive record to start this year’s tournament, holding Howard to four first-half points en route to a 79-21 rout in another 1-16 game.
The SEC champions should have at least a bit more resistance in the second round of the Greensboro Regional on Sunday against No. 8 Miami, while Stanford also gets its region’s No. 8, Kansas.
Aside from the toss-up 8-9 and 7-10 games, the women’s tournament featured only one upset on its opening day, as Kierstan Bell scored 22 points to lead No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast to an 84-81 triumph over No. 5 Virginia Tech in the Spokane Region. Up next for the Eagles will be Friday’s highest-scoring team, Maryland, a 102-71 home winner over Delaware.