By ANNA HAYNIE
The Big Dance is over for the BYU women’s basketball team.
The Cougars closed their post-season play Saturday night, March 18 when they fell in the first round of the NCAA East Regional to No. 5 seed Oklahoma, 86-81.
But no one’s complaining.
“We have nothing to hang our heads about,” head coach Trent Shippen said.
And they don’t.
The group of women that showed up for its first appearance at the NCAA could have fooled any of the spectators.
Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale commented after the game that BYU deserved a higher seeding than 12 and she was impressed with the excellent ball club at BYU.
The Sooners came out strong, pulling ahead early in the first half, but the Cougars clawed their way back, and a touch pass from Erin Thorn to Cady Williams, who hit a lay-up, put the Cougars up by one at the half.
Williams tried single-handedly to keep BYU in the ball game, pouring in six 3-pointers to contribute to her team-high 27 points before she was taken out of the game with three minutes on the clock, after being elbowed in the eye.
Once again freshman Jennifer Leitner stepped up from the bench with some major contributions to the game.
Leitner and Thorn trailed Williams with 17 points each, and Leitner led the team with 9 rebounds.
Jill Adams and Stacy Jensen each added 10 points, putting all five scorers for the Cougars in the double digits.
But five Cougars in double figures wasn’t enough to silence Oklahoma’s All-American Big 12 player of the year, Phylesha Whaley, who put in a game high 33 points.
“Probably the biggest key was the start of the second half,” Shippen said. “They had a big run, and we just played catch-up for the rest of the game.”
A 9-point run at the start of the half gave the Sooners the lead for good.
Three 3-pointers in a row from Williams and then two from Thorn were key plays for the Cougars in the second half, but weren’t quite enough to boost them to a lead.
Thorn contributed five treys to add to the team’s 13 of 25 3-pointers.
“I thought we showed well against the No. 27 team in the country,” Shippen said. “They played good ball, but we played right there with them.”
The Cougars still have plenty to be applauded for.
Take their 22-win season, for example.
The Cougars were only 2 games away from their all-time high of 24 wins in a season.
And then there’s the No. 2 spot in the Mountain West Conference. Not to mention the Cougar’s NCAA berth.
No, there’s not much room to complain.
Although the Cougars will lose a huge chunk of the team with starters Lori Cuff, Adams and Williams leaving next year, they are looking to improve on their winning season.
“I feel like we have a really good nucleus of underclassmen staying with us, so we hope to build on that for next year,” Shippen said.