Belmont earns first ever NCAA Tournament victory in program history
Belmont claimed its first ever NCAA Division I Women’s Tournament win behind the play of its star freshman Destinee Wells who, again, played her best in the Bruins’ biggest moments.
“It feels great to have amazing coaches and teammates by my side,” Wells said after the game. “It’s good to see all the work I put in over the years finally paying off.”
Wells was instrumental in Belmont’s 64-59 win over Gonzaga University Monday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. She scored 25 points, dished out seven assists and snatched three steals, as her inspired performance changed the direction of the game for Belmont.
Those 25 points are the most ever scored by a Belmont women’s player in a NCAA Tournament game.
“She’s had an incredible freshman season,” Belmont head coach Bart Brooks said. “For her to be able to play like she did today against a really good defensive team, I think that just gave us a chance to showcase how good she is … she’s special.”
Her urgency and production started early as she scored nine of the team’s first 13 points in the first quarter.
Her offensive spark in the first led to an offensive onslaught in the second quarter that saw Belmont open the frame up on a devastating 13-0 scoring run. A previous 11-point Gonzaga lead flipped into a two-point Belmont lead with just under six minutes left in the quarter. And by halftime, Belmont led the game, and the upset noise started buzzing.
“We knew they were going to make a run, but we knew we were going to make a run,” Wells said after the game. “It was going to be a challenging game, and we knew it would be close so we just had to be tough a dig it out.”
Brooks attributed the second-quarter run to Belmont adjustments it made when confronted with the size that Gonzaga played with. Once the team was aware of how physical the Bulldogs were both offensively and defensively, each player fell into a rhythm.
“We got better connected to take them out of their rhythm and pressure the ball a little bit more. It was just little things that our players did a great job of adjusting and executing as the game went,” He said.
In the third, Wells picked up exactly where she left off, scoring 10 points and dishing out three of her seven assists during the frame of action. In total, she played a hand in 16 of Belmont’s 19 points and helped put Belmont in a position to upset the No. 5 seeded Bulldogs.
Gonzaga trimmed a 10-point deficit into a three-point game with five minutes left to play in the fourth. But again, it was Wells who scored a twisting reverse layup to swing the momentum back in Belmont’s favor.
And with 19 seconds left in the game, Wells drew two defenders on a drive and dumped the ball off to freshman forward Madison Bartley, who made the difficult layup over two Gonzaga defenders while being fouled.
This sequence put Belmont up by two possessions, with less than 15 seconds left in the game. A few made free throws later, Belmont claimed a 64-59 victory and its first NCAA Tournament win in program history.
“I am thrilled that I get to see and experience this with this group,” Brooks said.”To see the experience that they just had and to come out with a win was truly a moment of a lifetime for us.”
Coming into Monday’s game, Belmont was confident in its chances. By the final buzzer that confidence turned into the result each one of the players and coaches on the roster worked for all season.
Now Belmont focuses on Indiana University, which is waiting for the Bruins in the second round on Wednesday. Figuring out the particulars of that team is necessary for Belmont’s success in that game, but at least for one night, Belmont can celebrate the biggest win in program history.
“This means the world to us,” Wells said about her and her teammates after the win. “We are so grateful to be here today and get to play the game that we love. It just feels amazing.”
This article written by Ian Kayanja.