Updated: Sep 24
For Belmont, beating Gonzaga University in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Tournament starts with doing more of what got them here.
“We can’t reinvent who we are and what we do on offense. So we are going to do what we have been doing all year, and that is moving the ball, spreading the floor and try to get our guard’s space to work, ” Belmont head coach Bart Brooks said on Friday. “So for us, it’s just running our stuff, being sharp and making the reads. I think we are prepared.”
Monday’s matchup marks the sixth time Belmont has played in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, and as a program, the Bruins are 0-6. The Gonzaga Bulldogs now stand in the way of Belmont’s first NCAA Tournament win, but among the leaders on Belmont’s team, there is a belief that this is the season the Bruins finally advance past the first round.
“There is something in the air,” junior forward Conley Chinn said. “We are really excited. And I do think that this is the year we get Belmont’s first win in the NCAA Tournament.”
To get the first win in the NCAA Tournament, Belmont’s tall task is beating a prepared, composed, and meticulous Gonzaga team.
The Bulldogs come into the round one matchup boasting a 23-3 overall record. And in the last 23 games, Gonzaga has won 22 of them.
Senior guard Jill Townsend and senior forward Jenn Wirth do most of the scoring for Gonzaga. The two players average a combined 26.2 points per game.
Game planning for those two is a difficult proposition, but it’s one Brooks knows he will figure out.
“On the offensive end they are a machine,” Brooks said. “We’ve got our hand full, and we know they will be a huge challenge for us. We also present some challenges for them on the other end of the floor, and it is my job to try to figure out how to take advantage of those.”
Belmont’s biggest advantage is its elite production from the perimeter. Belmont’s top three leading scorers can each create shots from behind the three-point line and operate in space, with the most notable being freshman Destinee Wells.
Wells on the season averaged 17 points per game while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three. During the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, she averaged 23 points per game and 5.3 assists, while shooting 51 percent from the field and 40 percent from three.
All season, she has had her best games when Belmont needed it the most, with the recent being a 32-point career-high in the OVC Tournament championship game.
Now the stage doesn’t get any bigger than round one of the NCAA Tournament. Belmont will be relying on her to help create offense for the other great players on the team.
And with great guard play, Belmont finds its advantage in speeding up the game, forcing turnovers and playing its known brand of basketball.
“Our confidence level is through the roof right now,” junior guard Jamilyn Kinney said on the possibility of beating Gonzaga. “We have worked all year for this, and we are ready to compete and show people that we do belong here. I am hoping that we can go in and play the game we have been playing all season, and play our best basketball.”
Belmont’s primary weakness in this matchup comes in the size department. Gonzaga is taller at every position across the starting lineup. And on the season the Bulldogs sit top 15 nationally with an average rebound margin of +13.6.
“We have got some matchup that will give us issues just with their size and physicality,” Brooks said.
To counteract the taller Gonzaga team, Belmont hopes to spread them out and play in space. While also utilizing its skilled bigs who can play both inside and outside, he said.
Kinney echoed the same sentiments stating that “We will have to rebound. And their length and size is the biggest thing we will focus on heading into the game.”
Though Gonzaga has a height advantage, Kinney believes that if the Bruins play their game the score will take care of itself, she said.
As a No. 12 seed taking on a No. 5 seed, Belmont has its work cut out for itself.
And on Monday at 3 p.m. the Bruins have a chance to win the first NCAA Tournament game in program history. Belmont teams in prior seasons had the same opportunity, but to the players and coaches, this team feels as though it’s the right group to finally get the job done.
“Our team has already overcome so much adversity that there is nothing we can’t do this season,” Chinn said. “We have such a talented group of players. We have great freshmen and great returners…We have confidence, we are about to play our best basketball and I think we are going to do it on Monday.”
This article written by Ian Kayanja.