Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Full Nelson Return Sparks Belmont’s Resurgence

Belmont’s Haley Nelson entered the 2010-11 season fresh off a breakout season in which she averaged better than a double-double and landed on the Atlantic Sun’s Second-Team All-Conference squad. Her season got delayed three games, but quickly returned to form as she averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds against Tennessee Tech and Central Arkansas.

Following a two-game dip in production, she ripped of a string of 11 straight double-figure scoring games, averaging 15.5 points in that span. Her streak came to an end with a seven-point outing against ETSU. She missed the next game, only to return against Stetson to score five points.

The Stetson contest would be the last action Nelson saw for two weeks. During that time, Belmont endured its longest losing streak in program history. It reached eight games leading up to a road contest at Campbell at a time when even Belmont’s standing for making the General Shale Atlantic Sun Championships was in doubt. Although she only scored five points in minutes of action, she grabbed seven rebounds and the anchored a defensive effort that limited the Camels to 33.3 percent shooting.

“I think if you look at us statistically, Haley Nelson is by far our player of the year,” Brittney Ezell, first-year head coach at Belmont said. “The way that she plays, the way that she competes, elevates our entire team. You can’t replace a player that has Haley’s talent level and passion.”

In close home losses to ETSU and USC Upstate, Nelson regained her scoring touch, averaging 14 points per game while shooting better than 57 point from the floor. In the final weekend of regular-season play, she led the Bruins to road wins at Mercer and Kennesaw State by averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds. The two wins elevated the Bruins up to the sixth seed and thus avoiding Stetson and ETSU in the quarterfinal round of the A-Sun Championship.

I have been calling her ‘Big T’ - it stands for Big Time,” Ezell said. “We tell her all the time, big time players make big time plays in big time games. And she has really asserted herself in that role.”

Back on the University Center floor for the second time in a week, Nelson keyed a defensive effort not seen before at the A-Sun Championships. The Bruins limited Campbell, who had scored 98 points in its most recent outing, to 42 points – the fewest points ever allowed in an A-Sun Championship game.

“We also tell them before the game, we don’t have stars we’re trying to build constellations at Belmont,” Ezell said. “We want a bunch of stars.”

If’s Nelson’s star continues to rise, Belmont could very well back in the A-Sun title game for the first time since 2007.

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