Experience trumped youth in the Belmont women’s basketball team’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament. The 14th seeded Bruins were unable to upset third seed Georgia on Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis.
The Bruins had a rough start to open their first NCAA Tournament appearance. Georgia opened the first meeting between the programs with an 11-0 run. Belmont finally ended its drought with a free-throw by sophomore Jessica Bobbitt (Trenton, Tenn.) at the 16:16 mark. It looked like the Bruins had shaken off their Big Dance jitters when redshirt freshman Amber Rockwell (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) trapped a UGA player in the corner after a rebound, forcing her to use a timeout. The Bruins then resorted back to using steals and turnovers to create scoring opportunities. Rookie Tereva Moore (Memphis, Tenn.) netted BU’s first field goal of the game less than 45 seconds later. Sophomore Alysha Clark (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) powered through the paint for her first points of the game with 13:58 on the clock
By the eight minute mark, the Bruins had cut the Georgia lead down to 10, 18-8. A power move in the paint by Bobbitt cut the lead to eight but the Lady Bulldogs put together an 8-0 run to expand their lead to 26-10 with under four minutes remaining before the break. Freshman Shaunda Strayhorn (Dyersburg, Tenn.) drilled both of her attempts at the charity stripe and senior Destri Bockey (Van Wert, Ohio) pushed for a jumper in the paint in the final six seconds to send the Bruins to the locker room only down, 30-18.
Clark helped to get things started for the Bruins as the second stanza opened. After a put back lay-up by junior Brittany Myers (Madison, Ind.), Clark followed with Belmont’s first three pointer of the game to move the Bruins to within eight, 34-26, with 16:05 left in regulation. Moore squared up for a jumper just inside the three-point arc that drew the Belmont faithful and new converts left over from the previous game to their feet as the team moved to within striking distance with 15 and a half left in the game.
A three-point play by Tasha Humphrey put the Lady Bulldogs back on top by 10, 39-29, with 10:40 on the clock but Bockey found the bottom of the net from the top of the key to close the gap to eight again. Two minutes later, Georgia had inched back up to a double digit advantage, 41-31. Back-to-back trips to the free throw line by the Lady Bulldogs saw them convert three of the four attempts to take an 11 point lead, 44-31, with just over six minutes left in the contest.
The Bruins slipped in a drought that lasted nearly six minutes that was finally halted with on the front half of a one-and-one by Clark with 4:06 remaining in the game. However, Georgia was only able to increase its lead to 14 points, 46-32, during the stretch. In the final minutes, the Lady Bulldogs continued to add to their point total from the free-throw line and went on to win the game, 53-36.
Georgia shot 33.3 percent (19-57) from the floor, 80 percent (12-15) from the free-throw line and an icy 18.8 percent (3-16) from behind the three-point arc. The Lady Bulldogs forced 22 Belmont turnovers and held the advantage in blocks, 7-2, steals, 13-6, and assists, 13-8.
Christy Marshall led Georgia with 11 points while Ashley Houts added 10 in the effort. Angel Robinson and Janese Hardrick pulled down six rebounds apiece. Robinson also had a game-high three blocks while Hardrck came away with a game-high five steals.
Belmont shot 20.4 percent (11-54) from the hardwood, 68.4 percent (13-19) from the charity stripe and a dismal 4.0 percent (1-25) from three-point range. The Bruins dominated in rebounds, 46-39.
Clark notched her 20th double-double of the season with a game-high 12 points and 13 rebounds. Moore also reached double digits, adding 10 points in the effort. Bobbitt collected a team-high four steals.
“I was very proud of the effort,” said Head Coach Tony Cross. “Certainly we would have liked to take care of the ball a little more, and certainly made more than one out of 25 ‘threes’. We just couldn’t put enough pressure on the offense. Our defense did a great job. We knew rebounding would be a factor, and I think we took care of that part of the game.
“Probably shooting as far as taking good shots -- that will come and go. I think this was not typical of our shooting, but our decision-making needs to be better. I am very confident in the team we had this year. We had one goal of making the NCAA Tournament and now we have that goal of going to the NCAA Tournament plus one. Belmont will be back.”
Belmont finishes its 2006-07 campaign with a 25-7 record overall and a 16-2 Atlantic Sun record.