Bellarmine, USI’s stumbling block

Both times that I’ve had the USI beat here at the C&P, the Screaming Eagles have faced an opponent who, year in and year out, bedeviled them. They’d lose to this team almost all the time.

In my first incarnation as the paper’s USI beat writer, in the late 1990s, Kentucky Wesleyan was that school. USI might beat the Panthers once in a while during the regular season, but never could win a game against them in the postseason, either in the GLVC Tournament or in the NCAA Regional. It didn’t help that several of those games took place at the Sportscenter in Owensboro, where the local fans were loud, obnoxious (to USI followers, anyway) and always stationed directly behind the USI bench where they could bait coach Bruce Pearl and drive the USI players to utter distraction. It worked almost every time. What made it worse for USI was that the Eagles — because of the money-saving mindset of NCAA Division II sports — would play KWC twice during the regular season, then face them in the GLVC tournament and sometimes yet again in the NCAA Tournament. For example, USI went 0-4 against Wesleyan in 1998-99 and 0-3 in 2000-01. Maybe worse was when the Eagles won both regular-season games in 1999-2000, then lost twice in the postseason. I’m supposed to be unbiased and objective, but it really got to be a torment to watch this team find another way to lose again to KWC.

Now the Eagles appear to have the same problem with Bellarmine. The Knights are 6-3 against USI since I returned to the USI beat for the 2010-11 season. The worst years (so far) for the Eagles were 0-3 against Bellarmine that first season and 1-2 last season. That’s when USI beat the Knights by 13 points at the PAC, then lost badly to them the next two times they played, culminating in the 78-55 destruction in the semifinal round of the NCAA Midwest Regional at Drury University.

It hasn’t yet reached Kentucky Wesleyan proportions, but the danger for USI is there. I’m not sure what the problem for the Eagles is. Perhaps it’s Bellarmine’s multi-passing motion offense (sometimes the ball never touches the floor on a dribble) that frequently slices and dices coach Rodney Watson’s defensive schemes. The only time USI managed to dominate Bellarmine was in last season’s 61-49 beating of the Knights at the PAC. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bellarmine coach Scotty Davenport¬† vowed (loudly) never to let that happen again.

The first meeting of this season takes place Monday night in Louisville, Ky. USI is coming off an especially gritty victory over Indianapolis, which beat Bellarmine on its home court two nights prior. Despite past performance, I’m not yet willing to predict USI is going to experience more trouble or somehow turn the series around. What I will leave you with is a quote from Watson right after he heard Indianapolis had defeated Bellarmine: “I want to thank (Indy coach) Stan (Gouard) for making Bellarmine really angry.”

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