JOE BIDDLE: March Madness remains bullish on Belmont

Belmont's basketball team came to Utah in search of what would have been a historic first NCAA Tournament win.

The Bruins are still looking, having now drawn blanks in six tournament games out of the past eight years.

They were suffering from a terminal case of stage fright early in the game. Whatever could go wrong for the Ohio Valley Conference champions, went wrong as Arizona had its way from the start in posting a 81-64 win.

The 6-seed Wildcats came out determined to avoid what some analysts predicted would be a first-round upset.

What was most stunning was that Belmont committed errors that a Rick Byrd coached team rarely makes. They were called on a five-second violation when they failed to make an inbounds pass. Leading scorer and OVC Co-Player of the Year Ian Clark came out to open the second half, his team trailing 32-20, and launched an air ball 3-point attempt.

Whether it was Belmont's nerves, or Arizona's length in the paint that caused a season low 20 points production in the first half, isn't worth debating. Leave it to say it was a veteran Belmont team that looked more like it was making its first NCAA Tournament appearance.

At halftime, Belmont had misfired on 20 of 27 shots. The Bruins' strength from the perimeter was a fable as they were only 2 of 13 from 3-point land in the opening 20 minutes. They missed 10 of their first 11 shots. Belmont was battered on the boards in the first half, 27-9.

Not much was going Belmont's way in a game that had to be sorely disappointing to Byrd as the outcome was never in doubt.

Yes, Coach Sean Miller's Arizona team has a talented 7-foot, 255-pound center in freshman Kaleb Tarczewski, and he created havoc for those Bruins who chose to drive to the basket. He also scored buckets over the smaller Bruins.

He is a McDonald's All-American. While Byrd has built a winning program on the mid-major level, the Bruins have never landed a Kaleb Tarczewski.

They must make up for a lack of size by making 3-pointers and when they can't get enough to fall, the result is what it was. You live by the 3, you die by the 3, and that was the case for Belmont.

Belmont finished with 8 of 27 from 3-point land, under 30 percent. It was outrebounded 42-15, had five shots blocked and allowed four Arizona players to reach double figures.

The Bruins did manage to make a mini-run in the second half, cutting the margin to 11 points as they scored 10 straight points with 5:27 remaining in the game. But the Wildcats stretched it out to 78-60 under the 3-minute mark.

Belmont finished its season 20-7, while Arizona moves on to play in the round of 32 with a 28-7 record. Senior guards Kerron Johnson led Belmont with 22 points while Ian Clark added 21. Guard Mark Lyons led Arizona with 23 points while Tarczewski had 12 points and eight rebounds.  

This was arguably Byrd's best basketball team. It got its lowest seed in the history of the school, yet they had to leave Salt Lake City with an empty feeling.

The NCAA Tournament is all about match-ups and Belmont was no match for Arizona.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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