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State of Montana well represented in NCAA tournaments

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Posted at 6:42 PM, Mar 12, 2023

It's not just the Montana State Bobcats that will put the Treasure State on the map in this year men's and women's NCAA Tournaments, but a number of other native Montanans or those with Montana ties who will get their crack at March Madness.

Former Montana Lady Griz Sophia Stiles will get her first shot at the tournament as a member of Florida Gulf Coast's women's basketball program. The Eagles drew a No. 12 seed and will take on No. 5 Washington State (23-10) on Saturday in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

Stiles, a Malta native, joined FGCU this year and has started almost every game for the Eagles. In 34 games this year, Stiles has started in 33 of them and is averaging 7.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 50.5% from the field and 31.5% from 3-point range.

Stiles played for the Montana Lady Griz for five seasons out of Malta High School, and was the team's starting point guard her final three seasons. MTN Sports caught up with Stiles back in February about her season at FGCU.

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Florida Gulf Coast University women's basketball team with Malta native Sophia Stiles (center above trophy) celebrates after winning the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament championship on Saturday.

Stiles did not play in the Atlantic Sun Conference championship game for FGCU due to an injury which she sustained in the semifinal game against Austin Peay, according to a media release from the school. Still without Stiles, FGCU defeated Liberty 84-60 in the championship game to book their ticket to the tournament.

FGCU (32-3) has qualified for its sixth straight NCAA Tournament, excluding the canceled 2020 contest. Last year the Eagles advanced to the round of 32 at the tournament and also advanced that far in 2018.

Another former Lady Griz player in Glendive native Karsen Murphy is also getting her first shot at the national tournament.

Murphy, a sophomore at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, and the Mocs drew a No. 16 seed in the tournament. The Mocs won the Southern Conference tournament championship game 63-53 over Wofford last Sunday. The Mocs (20-12) will take on No. 1 Virginia Tech on Friday in the opening round.

Murphy, a former standout at Dawson County High School, spent her freshman season at Montana during the 2020-21 pandemic-affected season. She then transferred to Chattanooga and this year has been a role player, appearing in 29 games at 8.4 minutes per game, and she's averaging 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.

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Glendive native Karsen Murphy, far right, celebrates with Chattanooga's women's basketball team.

In other Montana connections, Jordan Sullivan is also making her return to the tournament.

Sullivan, a Sidney native who played and coached for the Montana Lady Griz, is in her first year as an assistant coach at Utah. The Utes drew a No. 2 seed in the tournament and they will take on No. 15 Gardner-Webb (29-4) in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Friday.

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Utah assistant coach Jordan Sullivan applauds from the bench during an exhibition game against Northwest Nazarene at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on October 27, 2022.

With Sullivan on staff, the Utes have been one of the best women's programs in the country and they head into the tournament at 25-4 overall on the year. MTN Sports also caught up with Sullivan earlier this season to talk about her transition from Montana to Utah.

In the men's tournament selection show, former Montana Tech head coach Kelvin Sampson continues to have Houston among the best in the country. The Cougars drew a No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region in the men's tournament under Sampson, and they will take on No. 16 Northern Kentucky. Those two teams will tip-off on Thursday in Birmingham, Alabama at 7:20 p.m.

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Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson reacts to a call during the second half against Memphis in the finals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament Sunday, March 12, 2023, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Sampson, who coached at Tech from 1980-85 — including being the program's head coach from 1981-85 — has been the head coach at Houston since 2014 and took the Cougars to the Final Four in 2021.

Montana State drew a No. 14 seed in this year's tournament as the Bobcats have made the men's NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons. MSU will take on No. 3 Kansas State on Friday at 7:40 p.m. in Greensboro, North Carolina.