SAN MARCOS, Texas – The Gonzaga women came to Texas with every expectation of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Destinee had other ideas.
In one of the most confounding losses in program history, the favored Zags couldn’t handle the quickness of the Belmont Bruins and their star freshman Destinee Wells.
The result was a stunning 64-59 loss Monday afternoon in the first round of the tournament.
After taking an 11-point lead late in the first quarter, the Zags struggled with turnovers and spotty outside shooting and missed foul shots, but mostly with the 5-foot-6 Wells.
After a slow start, Wells finished with 25 points and seven assists – both game highs – to hand GU its most shocking loss in the NCAA Tournament.
Seven years ago, coincidentally also in Texas, the Zags lost as a 7 seed to James Madison.
But this felt different, a much harder fall. GU was 23-3 and ranked 14th coming into Monday’s game at Strahan Arena on the campus of Texas State University.
This was a veteran team, winners of 22 out of their last 23 and with justifiable expectations of reaching the Sweet 16.
“This was hard for our team; it always is this time of year,” Coach Lisa Fortier said through watery eyes.
“Today we didn’t have enough answers,” Fortier said.
In a game that lived up to its David vs. Goliath billing, the Zags owned the boards by a whopping 37 to 18. But they seemed bothered by the quick hands of the Belmont defenders, and at the other end couldn’t catch Wells and her backcourt mate Tuti Jones.
“Destinee Wells is tough to guard,” Fortier said. “We tried a lot of different things, but they made plays and she made plays. … It was a tough out.”
After trailing by as many as 10, the Zags found the road back. With 3 minutes, 58 seconds left Abby O’Connor hit a 3-pointer that cut the Belmont lead to 57-55.
After Wells missed a contested layin, Kayleigh Truong – playing in her home state for the first time as a Zag – could have given GU its first lead since the second quarter.
But her wide-open 3 was off the mark. Belmont missed at the other end, but Townsend committed one of GU’s 20 turnovers .
At the other end, Madison Bartley outmuscled Townsend for a layin that give Belmont a 59-55 advantage. However, LeeAnne Wirth’s long jumper with 46 seconds left made it 59-57.
However Bartley struck again with 19 seconds, her layup and free throw following a foul by Townsend made it 62-57.
A turnover by O’Connor at the other end with 19 seconds left sealed the game for Belmont, which will face 4-seed Indiana in a second-round game on Wednesday in San Antonio.
“This wasn’t what we were looking for,” said Townsend, who finished with 17 points in her last game as a Zag. “We were planning to be here for a bit.”
“Right now there’s nothing else but disappointment,” Townsend added.
There was nothing but exuberance in the first quarter as GU dominated in the paint, made nine of its first 12 shots and led 22-11.
They also hit three of their first four shots from long range, a trend that didn’t last. GU made only 2 of 11 the rest of the way.
The Belmont comeback began quietly enough with a short jumper by Wells that cut the GU lead to 22-13 going into the second quarter
The Bruins (21-5) took the momentum from there.
Seven minutes later, the Zags were back on their heels, down 29-24 and struggling to cope with Wells and the Belmont outside shooters.
As the Zags began to close the lanes on Wells, she began to find open teammates on the wings or in the paint.
“We could have done a little better job guarding her one-on-one,” Fortier said. “The problem with players like her is they’re quick and good at finishing, and they’re also good at shooting from outside.”
“We also got a little laned out,” Fortier said. We’re supposed to get to the help side a little better.
Gonzaga narrowed the gap to 33-32 by halftime and twice took one-point leads early in the third.
GU trailed 47-44 late in the third and had a chance to get closer when Yvonne Ejim was fouled while shooting.
However, she missed both – GU went 8 for 14 at the line – and in the final second of the third was whistled for a foul as Wells took a 3-point shot. Wells made all three shots to give Belmont its biggest lead to that point, 52-44.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.