Belmont freshman Destinee 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 victory ever in the women’s NCAA Tournament, pulling off a 64-59 upset over fifth-seeded Gonzaga on Monday.
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.
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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 never got closer.
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.
The Bruins wiped out an early 11-point deficit by scoring 13 points in a row, a stretch that started when the 5-foot-6 Wells drove for a jumper 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 had a fastbreak 3-pointer to put them ahead for good less than the minutes after halftime, in a stretch when she and Townsend twice traded baskets.
While freshmen guards Wells and 5-7 Tuti Jones started for Belmont, the Bulldogs had four senior starters, including 6-3 twins Jenn and Lee Anne Wirth.
Wells, who was coming off a career-best 32 points in the OVC tournament championship game also scored the last five points of the third quarter for a 52-44 lead, with a layup and then three free throws after being fouled when trying a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
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.
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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 to get the league’s automatic berth.