CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Practice and routine are an athlete's best friends, and the Belmont women's basketball team is pretty used to the drill by now. Friday the 13th-seeded Bruins play in the opening round of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament for a fourth straight year.
As in previous seasons, Belmont will take on the roll of the underdog against a power conference foe – this time No. 4 South Carolina (21-9) – when the game tips off from UNC Charlotte's Halton Arena at 12:45 p.m. CT. The 26-6 Bruins are no strangers to tough tasks though, with loads of big-game experience up and down the roster from early this season and years prior.
"We've been working all year long for this," began senior guard Jenny Roy (Brentwood, Tenn.). "We played a very tough non-conference schedule and the purpose was to prepare us for this time in March. We're grateful to be back and ready to give it our best shot."
Belmont's attempt to bust the bracket will air live throughout the country on ESPN2. An online video stream is also available through ESPN3 at WatchESPN.com and the Watch ESPN App. The Bruin Sports Network will also provide an audio feed of Friday's action, and fans can stay up to date with live online scoring as well.
Belmont is seeking its first win in the NCAA Tournament while making its fifth overall appearance. The Bruins drew a No. 12 seed a year ago before falling to No. 5 Duke, 72-58, in Athens, Ga. Two Belmont starters from that team are back in tournament play, Roy and fellow senior Darby Maggard (Larwill, Ind.), and two the guards are slated to make their fourth career NCAA Tournament starts this week. Junior Bruins Ellie Harmeyer (Kenosha, Wis.) and Maura Muensterman (Evansville, Ind.) also played significant minutes in last year's tournament and are projected to start Friday.
The four are part of a starting five that is among the most well-rounded scoring group in not just Belmont's Ohio Valley Conference but the region and the nation. Along with junior Maddie Wright (Chattanooga, Tenn.), all five average better than 9.0 points per game, led by Maggard (17.2) and Harmeyer (16.7). South Carolina will trot out an equally impressive scoring crew though.
The Gamecocks, who finished second in the SEC this season but fell in the quarterfinals of their conference tournament, have four players who average in double-figures scoring. None is higher than junior Te'A Cooper's 11.6 points per game though. USC does its damage with depth instead.
South Carolina is two years removed from a national championship and has made the NCAA Tournament in eight consecutive years.
"Obviously they're a really, really good basketball team and they play in a tough conference," Maggard said. "Every night they're playing against some of the best players in the country and they have some of the best players in the country on their team. We're going to have to come ready to play, but I don't think it's going to take anything more than what we're capable of every single night. There's just got to be extra focus because it's an NCAA Tournament game."
Friday's winner stays in Charlotte to play again Sunday against either No. 5 Florida State or No. 12 Bucknell in the second round.