For the fourth year in a row, the women’s basketball team will look to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament with another Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship.
To get there, Belmont will have to go head to head with UT Martin, a team that has risen to the occasion of challenging the Bruins’ spot at the top of the OVC.
It’s a familiar matchup for the championship.
Belmont and UT Martin faced off in the 2018 OVC Tournament championship, too. The two teams battled throughout the whole game until Belmont superstar Darby Maggard sunk a three that forced the game into overtime. The Bruins came out on top with a 63-56 final score, and a couple of weeks later, the team headed to Georgia to take on No. 5 Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
But not all of the teams’ recent meetings have gone in the Bruins’ favor.
Though Belmont beat UT Martin without too much difficulty in early February, the Skyhawks answered with a victory that broke Belmont’s 14 game winning streak when the two teams met up again on Feb. 28.
To get a win this time, the Bruins will need to show up on defense and limit UT Martin’s shooting, especially from the three-point line.
That’s not a new idea for this team, though.
“Coach always tells us that in the end it’s going to be about defense and D-glass. Every day we’ve got to keep getting better at it,” said junior Maddie Wright in Friday’s post-game press conference. “It’s doing what we do, but every day just getting a little bit better at it.”
UT Martin has had to adjust this season after star player Kendall Spray — who led the OVC in three point field goal percentage and averaged 17.8 points per game — transferred to Clemson. With Spray gone, senior Emanye Robertson has stepped up to lead the team in scoring, averaging 12.8 points per game.
Though Belmont will rely on big numbers from Maggard — who scored her 2,000th point during the semifinal — and other key players like senior Jenny Roy and junior Ellie Harmeyer, the depth of the Bruins’ bench will most likely also play in their favor.
Players like Jamilyn Kinney and Conley Chinn can be counted on to come off the bench and keep Belmont’s energy up on defense throughout the game.
“Everyone on our bench is more than capable of stepping onto that floor and making an impact for us,” head coach Bart Brooks said in Friday’s press conference. “We don’t rely on one player.”
That holds true on offense, too. Belmont’s ability to score in a variety of ways is typically a huge asset, especially in close games.
When the Bruins beat the Skyhawks earlier in the season, five players scored more than 10 points, and Roy grabbed an astounding 20 rebounds. If Belmont can deliver a stat line like that again, the team will most likely be unstoppable.
The Bruins and the Skyhawks will face off at 2 p.m. in Evansville, Indiana, with the game streaming on ESPN+.
Photos by Carina Eudy.