One of these years, Belmont is going to break through.
The bracket will fall the Bruins' way with the right matchup against a favored team that takes them for granted.
But that day has not yet come.
sixth NCAA Tournament appearance ended like the previous five, with the
Bruins losing to a superior team. This time it was Arizona that did the
dishonors with an 81-64 decision on Thursday evening.
Belmont, the beatings go on. This game followed form. The Bruins' five
previous tournament losses were by an average of 17.8 points. Thus, the
17-point defeat followed the script.
"We had a lot of
expectations, but it just didn't work out," said senior guard Kerron
Johnson, who led the Bruins with 22 points.
But there is some
honor in defeat. Look, it's better to lose your first game in the NCAA
Tournament than to win the NIT championship. Quick, who won last year's
NIT? I think you see my point.
But that is small consolation for the Bruins right now.
arrived at EnergySolutions Arena, the home of the NBA's Utah Jazz,
looking for a bracket breakthrough. Their No. 11 regional seeding, the
best in the program's history, was reason for hope.
was something of a wild card, a talented but inconsistent team. The
Wildcats opened the season with 14 straight victories, but had played
uneven basketball over the past two months.
everything evened out for Arizona. And when you consider the pedigrees
of the two programs and the conferences they call home, it was clear
that if the Wildcats played anything approaching their ability, the
Bruins were in trouble.
Guess what happened?
The Wildcats played up to their ability.
And the Bruins were in trouble.
much for executive privilege. President Obama had picked Belmont in his
bracket, something that Arizona coach Sean Miller made sure did not
escape the attention of his players. Any chance the Bruins had of taking
the Wildcats by surprise was compromised.
Look, the president wasn't the only one to take the plunge with Belmont. If you were looking for an upset, this was a sexy pick.
noting the impact of his senior class, Belmont coach Rick Byrd made
reference to what proved to be off-target predictions by the president
and CBS analyst Seth Davis among others, saying:
"They have put us in position where some people literally expect us to win this game against a great traditional power."
was a tough matchup and Byrd knew it. And it didn't help that the
Arizona team Byrd had seen on tape was markedly different than the one
he saw on the floor on Thursday night.
"I was more impressed with
the team that I saw than I was in scouting them," he said. "I thought
they were more engaged and more focused. If they play that way, they can
beat a lot of people."
For all the pre-game predictions, Belmont
never really had a chance. The Bruins survived a slow start but not a
bad finish to the first half and a lousy start to the second.
a period of eight minutes and change that encompassed the end of the
first half and the opening of the second, Arizona outscored the Bruins
20-5. That turned a three-point game into a comfortable - or
uncomfortable, depending on your allegiances - 18-point margin.
made a nice run deep in the second half, cutting Arizona's lead to
64-53 at the 5½-minute mark, but the Wildcats regained focus and pulled
"It seemed like every time we would make a run and start to
get back into the game, they'd make a 3-pointer or drive in for a layup
or dunk," said Bruins junior J.J. Mann, who finished with 13 points.
"When you work that hard to get back into the game and they answer it with a 3, it's kind of demoralizing."
didn't help that when it really mattered, Belmont couldn't throw it in
the Great Salt Lake. The Bruins shot just 25.9 percent in the first half
and fell behind 32-20.
Worse, the 3-point shot that was counted
upon to be the equalizer was anything but. Belmont, which shot 38.6
percent on treys during the season, made only eight of 27 (29.6
percent). Arizona ended up with one more 3-pointer than the Bruins.
all added up to more sadness amid the March Madness. Belmont is
0-for-NCAAs. But something tells me this won't be the Bruins last visit
to the NCAA bracket.