KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Belmont Bruins made history a year ago with the program’s first women’s NCAA Tournament win.
They found a way to top that.
Destinee Wells knocked down a pair of free throws with 1:02 left in double overtime, and Belmont knocked off No. 5 seed Oregon 73-70 Saturday for the Bruins’ second straight win as a 12 seed to open an NCAA Tournament.
Belmont (23-7) upset 14th-ranked Gonzaga in the sterile Texas bubble with no fans on hand last year in the NCAA Tournament. This time, the Bruins won their 13th straight and 19th in 21 games with a victory made all the more precious by being able celebrate immediately in the arena with family, friends and fans.
“It’s so hard to rank them because last year we made history,” Belmont senior forward Conley Chinn said. “It was the first time it had been done in our program. But I mean, just today, you kind of can’t get it better than that. That was pretty sweet.”
They will play fourth-seeded Tennessee, an 80-67 winner over Buffalo, on Monday in the second round.
This was the first double-overtime game in the NCAA Tournament since Dayton and St John’s in the first round in 2013. This was a thriller from start to finish with 10 ties and Wells’ go-ahead free throws was the seventh lead change and the only time Belmont led in the second overtime.
Belmont coach Bart Brooks loved how his Bruins never quit.
“They had every opportunity to fold, and when it got really hot, a lot, and they just always had an answer,” Brooks said. “They always fought. They found a way. They made a play. That’s our team. That’s what we’ve been. That’s who we are. It was really cool to be in that atmosphere. Great performance.”
After Wells split two free throws with 4.5 seconds left, Oregon had a final chance. But Sedona Prince’s long 3 bounced off the rim as the Bruins rushed the court to hug each other and Prince hung her head in dejection.
Oregon had the ball for much of the final minute in the second overtime and couldn’t get a shot to fall.
The Ducks won a jump ball situation with 29.8 seconds remaining. They kicked the ball out to Endiya Rogers whose 3 hit off the far rim, and Madison Bartley got the rebound with 6.5 seconds left to start the Belmont celebration.
Oregon coach Kelly Graves said his Ducks had plenty of chances and credited Belmont.
“It just seemed like we did not make that right play other than the shot at the end of regulation when we needed to,” Graves said.
The Bruins led 50-44 lead with 5:02 left in the fourth before Oregon rallied with a 9-3 run capped by Te-Hina Paopao’s 3 from the left corner with 7.9 seconds left tied it at 53. All Pac-12 forward Nyara Sabally blocked Nikki Baird’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer to force overtime.
Both teams had a chance to win at the end of the first overtime tied at 64. Sabally missed a layup in the final seconds before the All-Pac-12 forward blocked a couple inside chances by Bartley before the buzzer.
Tuti Jones led Belmont with 22 points, making all four of her 3-pointers. Wells finished with 16, and Conley Chinn added 10. The Bruins came in 20th in the nation knocking down an average of 8.4 3s per game. This time, they set a program record making 12.
Oregon (20-12) snapped a streak of five straight wins in the first round with this the Ducks’ first opening loss since 2001. The Ducks also snapped a streak of four straight Sweet 16 berths after being one of only six teams to make the regional semifinals each of the last four tournaments.
Sabally finished with a career-high 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Te-hina Paopao added 18.
“It just hurts right now,” Sabally said.
Belmont set the tone early taking a 9-2 lead with three 3s and led 13-8 after the first quarter. Oregon led 28-26 at halftime and 40-36 after the third.
Belmont: The Bruins came into the tournament with a NET ranking of 50 and the sixth-most difficult non-conference schedule in the country. They beat Mississippi early and also played Georgia Tech, Louisville, Auburn and Arkansas.
“If you want to get a good seed, you have to schedule really good,” Brooks said. “Well, it’s really hard to be really good in November and December.”
Oregon: The Ducks had been very strong in the fourth quarter this season, outscoring teams by an average of 19 to 14.5 points a game. They were outscored 17-13 in the fourth.