SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 22: Belmont vs Gonzaga during the Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament held at Texas State University on March 22, 2021 in San Antonio, TX. (Photo by Angela Wang/NCAA Photos)
Sports

Sidebar: Defensive disruptions carry Belmont to historic win over Gonzaga

“Defense wins games,” is a sport-wide phrase every team in the league relies on to get through the madness of March. 

In Monday’s historical postseason win, the Belmont women’s basketball team played its best defense of the season to upset the No. 5 Gonzaga Bulldogs. Despite grabbing only 18 boards on the night, it was their disruptive nature that won Belmont its first NCAA win in program history. 

The Bruins forced a catastrophic 20 turnovers that became 25 of their 64 points on the other end of the floor. If it wasn’t for each players’ willingness to do the dirty work, the Bruins would not have performed as well as they did, something head coach Bart Brooks fully acknowledges. 

“I don’t know if I’ve ever won a game where we had only 18 rebounds,” said Brooks. 

“They lead the country in rebounding margin for a reason, they’re really good on the glass, and that’s something we’ve struggled with this year. We knew we had to turn them over if we were going to have a chance to win the game.”

Freshman Tuti Jones led the Bruins’ momentum on the defensive end with four steals and plenty of additional clutch defensive plays. 

Jones, who has been known for her disruptive tendencies, led the team in steals per game throughout the season to rack up a total of 68 heading into the postseason. 

Though this was her first ever national tournament appearance, Jones didn’t let the big stage scare her. Her confidence playing at such a high level made for a nearly seamless defensive effort. 

“Tuti Jones has some unbelievably big defensive plays that led to easy ones for us – we needed that to happen,” said Brooks. 

The other half of Belmont’s freshman duo, Destinee Wells, combined with Jones to force seven of the eleven steals on the night. Their synchronicity on the floor has become a trend this season that can’t go out of style heading into their second-round matchup against No. 4 Indiana University. 

In its first-round matchup against VCU, Indiana grabbed 39 rebounds off the glass while only committing seven turnovers, a tough ratio the Bruins will have to disrupt in order to make it to the Sweet 16. 

Rebounding is a feat the Bruins have struggled with all season, but if there’s anything its first-round win showed the league, their players can definitely pick some pockets. 

This article written by Julieann Challacombe.

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