RALEIGH, N.C. – The Belmont women's basketball team's long-awaited encore begins Wednesday with the opening of the 2018-19 season and a tough test in North Carolina State.
The Bruins are coming off their most successful season in the program's 20-plus-year history at the NCAA Division I level, and the team will look to keep that hot streak rolling into the current campaign. Belmont, which was 31-4 a year ago, opens up on the road at [17/16] NC State at 6 p.m. (CT) from Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C.
NC State of the Atlantic Coast Conference is one of two Belmont opponents this year who showed up in the national preseason rankings (along with [11/12] Tennessee). Belmont Head Coach Bart Brooks knows the Wolfpack of veteran coach Wes Moore will offer a stiff challenge, but that's something the Bruins are looking forward to.
"It's a great opportunity for our players to be tested and find out right away where we sit in the food chain of women's basketball," Brooks said. "NC State is bringing back a lot of talent – they added a lot of talent – and they're going to be as good a team as we play this year.
"For us to get that test right away, it's something that our players and I have been looking forward to all offseason. I think when our players signed up to come to Belmont, they signed up to play in these type of games."
Belmont, which has appeared in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments, brings back two senior starters in standout guards Darby Maggard (Larwill, Ind.) and Jenny Roy (Brentwood, Tenn.). Both are Preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference selections, Maggard as Preseason Player of the Year. They'll be the engine of Belmont's offense and defense, especially with the graduation of three starters off last year's team.
A talented crop of underclassmen will help make the transition smooth though, Roy said.
"We lost some key players last year, but we've seen some young ones step up – and that's the exciting part," Roy said. "We've talked about it, that we might not have someone who can come in and just block shots like Sally McCabe did for us. We'll have to hustle and make effort plays over and over again, but that's what Belmont is all about."
NC State, which was 26-9 and reached the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen a year ago, has made the past two NCAA Tournaments. The Pack is 112-52 in Coach Moore's five seasons with the school thus far.
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Belmont and North Carolina State are meeting for the first time in the programs' history.
WHAT A DEBUT
Coach Bart Brooks had an all-time great head coaching debut last year in leading Belmont to its 31-4 record. With 31 wins, Brooks tied for the fourth most wins ever by a first-year head coach in NCAA history. The all-time mark is 35 wins, shared by Jody Conradt of Texas (35-4) and Sonja Hogg Louisiana Tech (35-1), both set in 1982.
AWARD WATCH LIST
Senior Darby Maggard has been named to the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award watch list of the top 20 shooting guards in the nation by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and Women's Basketball Coaches Association. Maggard was also on last year's preseason watch list for the award and finished as a finalist.
LIGHTS OUT SHOOTER
Darby Maggard ranks first among active NCAA players in both 3-point percentage (43.9%) and free-throw percentage (92.2%). She is also No. 2 among active players in assists (543) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.77) as well as third in made 3-pointers (317).
Belmont ranked third in the nation last year with 357 made 3-pointers. The Bruins hit at least 10 threes in 18 games and averaged 10.2 per game for the year to rank sixth in the country.
Belmont achieved a national ranking for the first time in school history in 2017-18, appearing in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Top 25 polls. The Bruins reached as high as No. 22 in the AP poll and No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches poll. It's the first time since 1992 that an OVC school has been represented in the top 25 (No. 22 Tennessee Tech in AP).
Belmont has just one player on its roster from North Carolina, but freshman Grace Smith hails from Raleigh, the home of the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Smith, a 5-foot-9 guard who redshirted last year, was a three-time all-state player at nearby Cary Christian School.
Belmont piled up 22 wins in a row in 2017-18 to surpass its program-record 21-game win streak set the year before. The 22 straight wins tied a record for the longest win streak in Ohio Valley Conference history.
COOKIN' IN CONFERENCE
Belmont has also won 46 straight conference games dating back to the 2015-16 season, a streak that ranks second in the nation to only perennial national power UConn (101). The Bruins' 46-game streak against league opponents is the longest of any OVC school in women's basketball history (29 by Tennessee Tech is the second longest from 1989-91). They're the first team in OVC history to register back-to-back undefeated conference campaigns.
FUNNY SEEING YOU AGAIN
North Carolina State head coach Wes Moore previously faced Belmont three times during his stint as head coach of Chattanooga, winning all three games between 2010 and 2012.
ALL THEY DO IS WIN
Belmont's 31-4 record last season was its best since 1993-94 (32-3) and just the third time the Bruins have reached 31 wins in program history. Belmont was one of eight teams in the country to reach the 31-win plateau in 2017-18 and one of only two mid-majors to do so.
Behind its 18.4 assists per game in 2017-18, which ranked 10th nationally, Belmont posted the seventh best assist-to-turnover ratio in the nation of 1.49 per game.
Belmont boasts a 33-14 mark in non-conference games over the last three seasons. The Bruins closed out their 2017-18 non-conference campaign with a signature win over Vanderbilt, scoring 111 points on the Commodores. It was the most points scored in Belmont's Division I era as well as the most points ever put up against a Vanderbilt women's basketball team.
THE MORE THE MERRIER
BU holds an impressive 34-1 mark when scoring at least 80 points over the last three seasons. The Bruins scored 80+ points 15 times in the 2017-18 campaign.