KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – When Belmont and [10/10] Tennessee tip off Sunday afternoon, two of the most tradition-rich women's basketball programs in the state of Tennessee will share the court for the first time in 40 years.
Belmont celebrated its 50th year as a program last season, a history that dates back to even before the modern era of the vaunted Lady Vols. The first meeting between the two teams came in 1970 with legendary head coach Betty Wiseman's Belmont squad picking up the win. They played nine times that decade, Belmont winning six, but the series has laid dormant since March 1, 1979.
With Wiseman at the helm, Belmont was a regional power throughout the 1970s in what would become the NAIA classification. Soon after, the Lady Vols elevated to rarified air. Led by its own legend, coach Pat Summitt, Tennessee claimed eight national championships between 1987 and 2008.
This season's matchup features two high-powered sides rounding out their non-conference schedules. Belmont is 7-3 and carries a three-game win streak into the game. Tennessee (10-1) is ranked 10th nationally in both the AP and USA Today Coaches polls.
"Tennessee is an incredible program, the tradition and history there. Obviously being in the state of Tennessee, it's even bigger for us," said Belmont senior guard Jenny Roy (Brentwood, Tenn.). "We took some time off for Christmas but have come back locked in and ready to go to give them all we've got."
Though Belmont has never beaten a ranked team since making its transition to the NCAA Division I level for the 1997-98 season, Belmont's history is not without top-10 upsets. Belmont's last victory over Tennessee – way back on Jan. 28, 1977 – came with the Lady Vols ranked 10th nationally among the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW).
This year's Bruins are looking forward to facing a similar test.
"Our program has really taken strides to make sure our schedule has those kind of teams on it," Belmont senior guard Darby Maggard (Larwill, Ind.) said of playing ranked teams. "Any chance you get to play a team that's ranked or in the top 10 in the country, it's a great opportunity to really see what you're made of."
Belmont previously played nationally ranked [17/16] North Carolina State to open this season. The Bruins fell to the Wolfpack, 77-62.
The Bruins open Ohio Valley Conference play following their bout with Tennessee. OVC games begin Jan. 3 when Belmont hosts Jacksonville State at the Curb Event Center.
Belmont and Tennessee played nine times between 1970-1979 with Belmont going 6-3 in those matchups. Tennessee is 3-2 in games played in Knoxville, the site of Sunday's contest. The team's last met on March 1, 1979, a 94-53 victory for the Lady Vols.
THE LAST WIN
Belmont's last win over UT came on Jan. 28, 1977, a 60-59 nail-biter in Nashville. Like this year's meeting, Tennessee came into that game ranked 10th in the Associated Press poll but couldn't overcome the 18 points apiece from Belmont's Sandra Smallwood and Jan McRae.
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. He was honored with the Spalding Maggie Dixon NCAA Division I Rookie Coach of the Year award.
BELMONT VS. RANKED OPPONENTS
Despite that win 40 years ago, Belmont is still searching for its first victory over a nationally ranked opponent since transitioning to the NCAA Division I level for the 1997-98 season. The Bruins are 0-19 all-time vs. teams ranked in the AP or USA Today Coaches Polls, including a 77-62 loss at [17/16] North Carolina State to start this season. Four of those meetings have come during NCAA Tournaments.
Former Belmont guard Madison Blevins will be on the call for the SEC Network during Sunday's game. Blevins, a Knoxville native who played for the Bruins from 2013-15, will handle color commentary duties during the broadcast.
FREE THROW PERFECTION
Maggard is a perfect 14-of-14 at the free-throw line this season, and she's made her last 34 free throws overall dating back to Feb. 8, 2018 of last season. The most consecutive free throws made without a miss in OVC history is 44 (Paige Guffey, Murray State, 2008-09).
ROY SWEEPS WEEKLY AWARDS
Jenny Roy's stat-packed performances in wins over Chattanooga and Arkansas State helped her to three player of the week awards handed out Christmas Eve. Roy was named Tennessee Sports Writers Association Player of the Week as well as OVC Player of the Week by both the conference and College Sports Madness. She averaged 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 75 percent (12-of-16) shooting.
ROY MOVING UP
Roy moved up Belmont's career charts in both rebounds and assists after the Bruins' win over Arkansas State on Dec. 21. With seven rebounds Roy now has 713 for her career, fourth in Belmont's NCAA era. With four assists she has reached 353 for her career, good for fourth place.
Belmont has had players register five steals in a game three times this season after having no such games in any of the four previous seasons. Roy has done it twice, once at [17/16] North Carolina State on Nov. 7 and once vs. Toledo on Nov 29, and Ellie Harmeyer reached five steals against Arkansas State on Dec. 21. The last Bruin to have five steals prior to this year was Taylor Mills against Tennessee State on Jan. 1, 2014.
Harmeyer is the only Bruin to have posted a double-double this season, doing so twice. She scored 17 points to go along with 10 rebounds against Arkansas State on Dec. 21. She also grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds and scored 11 points Nov. 19 against MTSU. Harmeyer has five career double-doubles now.