Belmont women’s basketball to play Gonzaga in the opening round of NCAA Tournament
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Belmont women’s basketball to play Gonzaga in the opening round of NCAA Tournament

Belmont women’s basketball earned a No.12  seed in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament and will take on the Gonzaga University Bulldogs on Monday in San Antonio Texas. 

This tournament bid marks the fifth time in six years Belmont has played in the national tournament, a feat only one other Ohio Valley Conference women’s program has accomplished. 

“We were very excited when Belmont pops up on that TV screen,” head coach Bart Brooks said. “This is one of those moments as a coach or as a player that you never take for granted.” 

Belmont earned its automatic NCAA Tournament bid by beating the University of Tennessee at Martin in the OVC championship game 83-75. Destinee Wells scored a career-high 32 points in the game, as she helped return Belmont to a place it has grown familiar with over the past decade: the NCAA Tournament. 

For Belmont, just getting to the NCAA Tournament is an achievement itself. The program was forced to take a month away from basketball operations, due to a COVID-19 outbreak. 

Amidst the outbreak, there were growing uncertainties surrounding the rest of the season and its conclusion. 

“We were wondering if we would be able to play enough conference games to make it to our conference tournament,” junior guard Maddie Cook said. “There were a lot of long days where we talked in circles about it. It was difficult physically and mentally, but we are here now and it feels amazing.”

Through all the uncertainty, here Belmont stands, preparing to take on a tough opponent in the round of 64. 

Though Belmont isn’t unfamiliar with competing in the NCAA Tournament, the Bruins have yet to win a game out of the five appearances. And that is something Brooks is looking to change with this team that he feels, is the team to finally get Belmont over the first-round hump. 

“This feels different, it really does,” he said. “A lot of things are falling into place for us, and I like where we are as a team going into this first-round matchup. We just got to give ourselves a chance to win it down the stretch.” 

To get over the hump, the Bruins need to upset the No. 5 seeded Bulldogs. 

Gonzaga, at the end of the regular season, held a 21-3 record and finished first in the West Coast Conference, going 16-1 in conference play.  

The Bulldogs won the WCC Tournament Championship after beating Brigham Young University 43-42 in the championship game. Senior guard Jill Townsend made her only field goal with 0.6 seconds left on the clock, punching the program’s 12th ticket to the NCAA Tournament. 

Two of Gonzaga’s three losses on the season came early in the team’s schedule. The one late loss was to BYU near the tail end of the regular season. And heading into the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs are riding a five-game win streak with an average margin of victory being 23 points.  

“Gonzaga is really good,” Brooks said. “I know how well that team is coach, and how good they have been. They are really efficient offensively and defensively, and we have our hands full. But it is great to be preparing for more basketball.” 

Round one is a challenge for Belmont, but the Bruins haven’t backed down from any challenge all season. Led by a unique combination of freshman and veteran players, Belmont has another opportunity to leave it all out on the floor.

At the end of the OVC conference championship, Brooks said that “this team hasn’t peaked yet.” Now the hope is that the Bruins will peak at just the right time, and bring in the biggest win in program history. 

Gonzaga and Belmont are scheduled to tip-off at 3 p.m. on Monday. Expect both teams to leave everything out on the floor.

This article written by Ian Kayanja.

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