By Rebekah Romney
AMES, Iowa – The women”s basketball team ended its season in Ames, Iowa when Tennessee knocked them out of the tournament, but a taste of the NCAAs left the Cougars hungry for next year.
“This was a great building stone for our program,” coach Jeff Judkins said. “We”re heading in the right direction.”
No. 2 Tennessee faced No. 1 Vanderbilt Monday night in the Elite Eight and won the game 68-63.
Tennessee remembers last year when it was upset in the Sweet Sixteen, and it took home a lesson to think about until the team made it there this year.
“Any team can beat you on any given night if you don”t come with a game plan and execute,” senior forward Michelle Snow said.
Tennessee advanced along with UConn, Oklahoma and Duke to the Final Four in San Antonio next weekend to compete for a place in the championship game.
As the Cougars watch women”s basketball end this season, they will start planning and rebuilding for next year.
The Cougars lose seniors Stacy Jensen, Lisa Osguthorpe, Melanie Pearson and Aspen Casper.
Pearson was the leading scorer in the last game of the season, collecting 23 points against the Vols. She has been Judkins” first choice off the bench, during this season, to bring energy to the court and points to the board.
However, BYU will keep junior starters Erin Thorn and Jennifer Leitner next year. All-American Thorn earned MVP of the Mountain West Conference and is the team”s leading scorer, averaging 17.6 points per game.
“She”s tough. She makes such good reads,” Vols coach Pat Summitt said. “Her ability to get other people open makes her team better.”
“I”ve never seen a player quite like her,” Tennessee guard Kara Lawson said. “With a player like that you have to make her work for her good looks.”
Leitner is the leading rebounder, collecting 8.9 boards per game. She has had eight double-doubles this season.
BYU”s third starter, forward Danielle Cheesman, is a freshman and will return next year as a key player for the Cougars.
BYU ends the season at 24-9 overall, with a career record of 2-5 in the NCAAs after this weekend. The team had competed in the tournament four times before this year.
The Cougars averaged 73.1 points per game this season and were first in scoring offense and defense in the conference.
As the only MWC team to advance past the first round of the tournament, other teams will be watching the Cougars as they head into next year.