SAN MARCOS, Texas (AP) — There were some agonizing moments in January when Belmont wasn't even sure it would be able to finish any more of its promising season.
Now the young Bruins, with 5-foot-6 freshman guard Destinee Wells leading the way, are going to the second round of the women's NCAA Tournament.
Wells scored 25 points and had seven assists in a turnover-free game as the younger and smaller 12th-seeded Bruins held on for their first tourney victory, pulling off a 64-59 upset over fifth-seeded Gonzaga on Monday.
“I'm thrilled I get to see it and experience it with this group,” Belmont coach Bart Brooks said. "They’ve been through so much this year and to see the experience that they just had and to come out with a win was truly a moment of a lifetime for us.”
The Bruins (21-5) sealed the game with 19 seconds left when Wells, on a drive with the shot clock winding down, passed inside to Madison Bartley. The fellow freshman had to rip the ball away from the defender, but made the layup while being fouled and added the free throw for a five-point lead.
“I came here to win championships and to make history, and we did that today," Wells said. “I’m glad to see it’s paying off all the hard work we put in over the season. We’ve been through a lot. We’re grateful to be here.”
Belmont, which had been 0-5 in the NCAA Tournament, plays No. 4 seed Indiana in the second round Wednesday in the Mercado Region. The Bruins are the first OVC team to win an NCAA tourney game since Tennessee Tech in 1990.
Jill Townsend had 17 points for Gonzaga (23-4), which had cut a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to 57-55 on Abby O’Connor’s 3-pointer with just over four minutes left. The Bulldogs, whose four senior starters included 6-foot-3 twins Jenn and LeeAnn Wirth, never got closer.
“We were planning to be here a bit, so nothing else but just disappointed,” Townsend said. “This was my last chance. To have it cut so short, obviously it hurts.”
Belmont's program was shut down after a 21-point road win at SEC team Auburn on Dec. 20. Between the positive tests and contract tracing, the Bruins had two games canceled and nine others postponed before finally resuming Jan. 19.
The Bruins wiped out an early 11-point deficit by scoring 13 points in a row, a stretch that started when Wells drove for a layup to end the first quarter. They then scored the first 11 points in the second quarter, a stretch capped by Jamilyn Kinney's second 3-pointer to put them up 24-22.
Wells, coming off a career-best 32 points in the OVC tournament championship game, finished the third quarter with a layup and then three free throws after being fouled when trying a 3-pointer just before the buzzer for a 52-44 lead.
“The future is bright for the Belmont program with her at the helm,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said.
Gonzaga led 22-11 in the final minute of the first quarter after a free throw by West Coast Conference player of the year Jenn Wirth, who finished with nine points, six rebounds and six assists
LeeAnne Wirth had 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting, including a layup to end the game.
LOTS OF TURNOVERS
Gonzaga had 20 turnovers that led to 25 points for the Bruins, whose six turnovers were only converted to five points for the the Bulldogs. That 20-point difference was huge.
“We knew we had to turn them over if we were going to have a chance to win the game,” Brooks said. "Thankfully we did.”
The Bulldogs shot 54.8% from the field (23 of 42).
“Our whole teams did some nice things, but between the turnovers and the trouble that we had with (Wells), it was a tough out,” Fortier said. “If we could have had one or two things go our way, it could have been a different outcome. But they're a good team, which we knew going into it.”
The Gonzaga loss came on the same court where earlier in the day where No. 11 seed BYU upset sixth-seed Rutgers 69-66. The Bulldogs beat BYU 43-42 on a last-second shot by Townsend in the WCC tournament championship game game to get the league's automatic berth.
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