For the first time in school history, Belmont women’s basketball hosted a reigning Final Four team.
And it only lost by five points.
Welcoming No. 7 University of Louisville to the Curb Event Center on Sunday night, the Bruins took the Cardinals down to the wire, losing 70-75.
The Bruins stepped up their game against Louisville after a narrow victory against the University of Chattanooga on Wednesday.
“I’m proud of our team's effort and the fight and I thought we did enough good things to put ourselves in a position to win. We were just a little bit short but the effort I thought our team was competitive against a really, really good team,” head coach Bart Brooks said. “As a coach that’s a good step in the right direction after Wednesday’s home-opener.”
Brooks expected his team to compete and play better, and they did.
Junior point guard Destinee Wells led the charge for the Bruins, scoring 20 points to eclipse the 1,000-point mark in her Belmont career.
In the early stages of the game, the two teams made it clear that it would be a back-and-forth affair.
Hailey Van Lith, one of the premier guards in the Atlantic Coast Conference, led for the Cardinals and scored their first four points.
Wells and junior Tuti Jones were matched up with Van Lith for most of the game, so graduate guard Sydni Harvey gave the Bruins the edge in the opening quarter.
A Harvey three-pointer secured a 17-16 lead for Belmont headed into the second quarter.
Van Lith provided energy for the Cardinals in quarter two, assisting on a Chrislyn Carr three pointer and connected on two jumpers.
Wells also scored her first points in the second quarter, allowing the Bruin offense to establish a rhythm.
As Belmont’s defense slowed, Louisville took the lead on a Carr buzzer beater at the end of the first half, giving the Cardinals a 37-34 advantage.
As the second half began, Louisville could not extend their lead, but they continued to take and make quality shots.
“I thought our players did a pretty good job staying disciplined and making them take shots they took,” Brooks said. “They got some really easy ones in the middle of the third quarter that I thought really changed the game for them because they got a little rhythm going.”
Belmont went nearly three minutes without a basket until Wells broke the scoring drought, tying the game.
But her score was quickly answered by Van Lith on the other end.
To end the third quarter, Van Lith gave Louisville a two-point cushion, 50-48.
Harvey helped keep the Bruins in the game during the final quarter with a pair of timely three pointers.
But Wells dominated as she scored 11 points in the final 10 minutes.
Thanks to Wells’ three, Belmont jumped to a four-point lead towards the end of the fourth.
But the Cardinals responded with shots of their own.
From there, Bartley tied the game, 63-63, with 3:30 remaining after making one of her two free throws.
Harvey gained the lead back for Belmont with a three-pointer, 66-65.
But the lead didn’t last long as a foul was called on Belmont in the last 10 seconds of the game, which Van Lith made a three-point game.
With Louisville leading 71-70, a Van Lith miss led the ball to find Wells’ hands with 7.6 seconds left and a chance to win for Belmont.
But Louisville sophomore Peyton Verhulst stole the ball after Belmont struggled to find points with 2.2 seconds remaining.
Although the Bruins came close to winning, Brooks and his team are not satisfied with the missed opportunity.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t win the game, I’m not thrilled that we competed, I’m disappointed that we didn’t finish it,” Brooks said. “We let it slip away, but we’ll get back to work and get ready for the next one.”
After the narrow loss, Belmont will now hit the road to face off against Middle Tennessee State University on Wednesday.
This article was written by Catarina Da Rocha. Contributory reporting by Ty Wellemeyer.