Two years ago, Georgetown (22-10, 9-7 Big East) had not played in the NCAA tournament in 16 years. This year, the Lady Hoyas enter the Big Dance as a No. 5 seed. They received the fourth-highest seeding of the nine Big East schools that received bids and will face Ivy League champion and No. 12 seed Princeton (24-4, 13-1 Ivy) Sunday afternoon in College Park, Md.

Both teams return from last year’s NCAA tournament but still lack experience in the Big Dance. It is just the third-ever tournament appearance by Georgetown and the second-ever appearance by Princeton. After falling to Baylor in the second round of last year’s tournament, the Blue and Gray enter the opening round of the Philadelphia region with heightened confidence and the advantage of more experience against top-tier competition.

“Now you don’t go out and play with the first NCAA-game jitters. Now you go out and you’re like, ‘OK. We’ve been here before, everybody relax. Let’s just play our basketball,'” Head Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “We play a lot of the 64 teams that are in the NCAA tournament [in the regular season], and our strength of schedule actually just helps.”

Georgetown has been spurred on throughout the season by the offensive firepower of sophomore guard Sugar Rodgers, a unanimous selection to the all-Big East first team and the conference’s second leading scorer at 18.2 points per game. However, it will be senior guard Monica McNutt — the Lady Hoyas’ team captain and second-leading scorer with 10.4 points per game — who leads the Hoyas into battle against an explosive Tiger ballclub.

“We’re prepared in terms of the mental aspect. In the NCAAs, it’s all about quick turnarounds and being prepared,” McNutt said. “We know what it takes. We know that teams are competing at a high level. Nobody wants to go home so we expect to bring that [mental toughness].”

While Princeton is accustomed to the less-competitive Ivy League, it is not to be taken lightly. The Tigers were competitive with power-conference schools earlier in their 2010-2011 campaign, beating USC and falling to Rutgers and Vanderbilt by one and six points, respectively. However, each of these highly competitive games took place before the season-ending knee injury to their leading scorer, sophomore forward Niveen Rasheed.

The Tigers are winners of 16 of their past 17 contests and boast three double-digit scorers; 6-foot-3 junior center Devona Allgood, senior guard Addie Micir and junior guard Lauren Edwards average 12.1, 12.0 and 11.7 points per game, respectively. Averaging nearly 70 points per game as a team, Princeton shoots a remarkable 41.8 percent from behind the arc and 44.7 percent from the field.

“At this point nobody’s an easy out. Princeton can be very dangerous,” Williams-Flournoy said. “They’re scoring a lot of points, and they’re shooting the ball extremely well. When you’re facing that type of opponent, of course your first thought is that you have to be able to stop them defensively.”

Defense has been central to the Hoyas’ success throughout the season. With their frenetic press defense, the Blue and Gray specialize in forcing turnovers and preventing their opponents from establishing their set offense.

“The goal is to … just play how we play,” Williams-Flournoy said. “Pick them up full court, try to pressure them, try to force them into some traps and try to make them play a little faster than what I think they’re probably used to playing.”

For McNutt, the single-elimination format of the tournament means that each game could be the last of what has been a wildly successful career — one which has helped facilitate the transformation and growth of the Georgetown program into a mainstay amongst the top 25 and a fierce competitor against the country’s best competition.

“This is my last hurrah,” McNutt said. “It’s crazy. For me I have to bring that sense of urgency as an individual, and I’m hoping that that trickles down to my teammates so we come out ready to go.”

The game’s setting in College Park, thanks to No. 4 Maryland receiving home-court advantage for the opening two rounds, affords fans the possibility of making the short trip across the District border to support the Blue and Gray.

“It gives our fans an opportunity to come and watch us play. For us it doesn’t really matter. We were going to go anywhere that they sent us,” Williams-Flournoy said. “It’s the NCAA tournament. It is what it is. You’re happy to be in it. You’re excited to be in it.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Comcast Center.

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