The Gonzaga women came to Texas with every expectation of a deep run in the NCAA basketball tournament.
Destinee had other ideas.
In one of the most confounding defeats in program history, the favored Zags couldn’t handle the quickness of the Belmont Bruins and their star freshman, Destinee Wells.
The result was stunning 64-59 defeat Monday afternoon in the first round of the tournament in San Marcos, Texas.
After taking an 11-point lead late in the first quarter, the Zags struggled with turnovers and spotty outside shooting and missed foul shots, but mostly with the 5-foot-6 Wells.
After a slow start, Wells finished with 25 points and seven assists — both game highs — to hand GU its most shocking defeat in the NCAA tournament play.
Seven years ago, coincidentally also in Texas, the Zags lost as a No. 7-seed to James Madison.
But this felt different, a much harder fall. No. 5-seed GU was 23-3 and ranked 14th coming into the game Monday at Strahan Arena on the campus of Texas State University.
This was a veteran team, winners of 22 out its last 23 and with justifiable expectations of reaching the Sweet 16.
“This was hard for our team; it always is this time of year,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said through watery eyes.
“Today we didn’t have enough answers,” Fortier said.
In a game that lived up to its David vs. Goliath billing, the Zags owned the boards by a whopping 37-18 margin. But they seemed bothered by the quick hands of the Belmont defenders, and at the other end couldn’t catch Wells and her backcourt mate Tuti Jones.
“Destinee Wells is tough to guard,” Fortier said. “We tried a lot of different things, but they made plays and she made plays … it was a tough out.”
And yet, after trailing by as many as 10, the Zags found the road back. With 3 minutes, 58 seconds left, Abby O’Connor hit a three-pointer that cut the Belmont lead to 57-55.
After Wells missed a contested layin, Kayleigh Truong — playing in her home state for the first time as a Zag — could have given GU its first lead since the second quarter.
But her wide-open three was off the mark. Belmont missed at the other end, but Jill Townsend committed one of GU’s 20 turnovers.
At the other end, Madison Bartley outmuscled Townsend for a layin that give Belmont a 59-55 advantage. However, LeeAnne Wirth’s long jumper with 46 seconds left made it 59-57.
However, Bartley struck again with 19 seconds, her layup and free throw following a foul by Townsend made it 62-57.
A turnover by O’Connor at the other end with 19 seconds left sealed the game for Belmont, which will face No. 4-seed Indiana in a second-round game Wednesday in San Antonio.
“This wasn’t what we were looking for,” said Townsend, who finished with 17 points in her last game as a Zag. “We were planning to be here for a bit.”
“Right now there’s nothing else but disappointment,” Townsend said.
There was nothing but exuberance in the first quarter as GU dominated in the paint, made 9 of its first 12 shots and led 22-11.
The Zags also hit three of their first four shots from long range, a trend that didn’t last. GU made only 2 of 11 the rest of the way.
The Belmont comeback began quietly enough, with a short jumper by Wells that cut the GU lead to 22-13 going into the second quarter
The Bruins (21-5) took the momentum from there.
Seven minutes later, the Zags were back on their heels, down 29-24 and struggling to cope with Wells and the Belmont outside shooters.
As the Zags began to close the lanes on Wells, she began to find open teammates on the wings or in the paint.
“We could have done a little better job guarding her one-on-one,” Fortier said. “The problem with players like her is they’re quick and good at finishing, and they’re also good at shooting from outside.”