For the third consecutive year and the sixth time in the last seven seasons, the Belmont women’s basketball team is going dancing. They were the first team, men’s or women’s, to clinch a 2022 NCAA Tournament spot.
The Bruins (22-7) earned the program’s seventh overall NCAA Tournament bid on Saturday at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana by defeating Tennessee Tech 51-29 in the OVC championship game.
“I can’t be more proud of the young ladies than I am right now after the ups and the downs of the season,” Belmont head coach Bart Brooks said. “This was a grinding, tough, difficult season.
"We really challenged these players in our nonconference. We got knocked down more than we knocked other people down. But we kept getting up and we kept fighting and we kept competing, and I think this group just has an unbelievable resiliency and toughness.”
No. 1-seed Belmont smothered the No. 2 Golden Eagles (20-10) from the jump, holding Tennessee Tech to single-digits in three of four quarters, including just three points in the final frame. The Bruins limited Tennessee Tech to 9-52 shooting from the field and forced 17 turnovers.
“When they got to the end of their season, they started playing their best basketball,” Brooks said. “That’s what competitors do, that’s what winners do, and that’s what championship programs do. Our team today proved that they’re a championship program.”
Destinee Wells once again came up big for Belmont. The sophomore was the only Bruin to score in double-figures, notching a game-high 22 points. For her efforts, she was named the OVC Tournament MVP for the second year in a row. Fellow sophomore Madison Bartley joined Wells on the All-Tournament team.
Former Brentwood Academy standout Blair Schoenwald played 16 minutes off the bench in the win. The sophomore drained consecutive threes late in the third quarter to help expand the Bruin lead.
“I think our team’s chemistry, our team’s dynamic shifted dramatically about three weeks ago when we started getting more consistent production from our bench," Brooks said. "Those players are really talented. I thought Nikki Baird, Blair Schoenwald, Tessa Miller, Kilyn McGuff all gave us a huge lift off the bench.”
The Bruins, who are headed to the Missouri Valley Conference next season, end their tenure in the OVC with six conference tournament titles and four regular season crowns.
During last season’s NCAA Tournament, the No. 12-seed Bruins upset No. 5 Gonzaga 64-59, before falling to No. 4 Indiana 70-48 in the second round. The win over Gonzaga was the program’s first-ever March Madness win following five losses in their previous appearances.
Belmont will now be waiting until Selection Sunday, one week from today on March 13 at 7 p.m. on ESPN, to find out who their opponent will be and what seed they will have in this year’s NCAA Tournament.