Crying seemed like the only reasonable thing to do for Michelle Price.
Price was back home, playing in her first game in Texas since her high school days at Kingwood, about a two-hour drive from College Station. She had just completed the best 26 minutes of basketball in her Wichita State career, scoring a team-high 12 points and turning an All-American into a non-factor.
She was dreading that final buzzer, which soon would finalize WSU’s season with a 71-45 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
When it finally came, and Price’s efforts were not rewarded with victory, she began to break down. That is, until the handshake line, when she met the coach that sent her the first recruiting letter.
“You sure did kick our butts,” Price said, repeating the words of Texas A&M coach Gary Blair. “That’s the edited version.”
That helped hold back the tears for an emotional end to the most successful season in WSU women’s basketball history.
It hurt because the Shockers had hope.
They had hope after outplaying a top-10 team on its home court for 12 minutes. They had hope when Price and a gang of Shockers held Kelsey Bone, A&M’s 6-foot-4 All-American, scoreless and without a shot in the first half.
But 27.5-percent shooting after holding a 20-19 lead with 7:45 remaining in the first half is what doomed Wichita State.
“I’m not big on those types of moral victories,” WSU coach Jody Adams said. “I was very pleased with how we played, but you’ve got to be able to put together a 40-minute game at this time of the year. That’s what we came here to do. We’re not satisfied with just eight minutes or 10 minutes. We’re satisfied with winning.”
Those hopes were genuine. It didn’t matter that the history books had never recorded a 14-seed over a 3-seed. WSU did not come to College Station to take its beating and go home happy with the experience.
“We know we’re capable of playing with the top teams,” senior Jessica Diamond said. “We wanted to play a lot differently than we did. We wanted to come out on top. It’s a little heartbreaking for us to go out like this.”
After playing with the Aggies for the first 10 minutes, Wichita State had a chance to seize control when Bone traipsed to the bench in disgust after getting her second foul to sit out the final 10 minutes of the half.
Bone played seven minutes, touched the ball once and did not take in the first half, as Adams’ plan worked to perfection — have Price body her up with an additional Shocker hovering nearby.
“They did something that a lot of people haven’t done,” Bone said. “I think that confused my teammates. We’re so used to having one person on me to start, then a second coming over. We weren’t used to seeing that and I think that’s why we had such a slow start.”
That’s when the small window of opportunity presented itself, but instead the Shockers responded with one of their worst offensive draughts of the season.
Even without Bone, A&M overwhelmed the Shockers with its size and Kristi Bellock (18 points) and Courtney Williams (11 points) helped the Aggies end the first half on a 16-2 run for a 35-22 halftime lead. The game was never in question after that.
“This game does not define our program,” Adams said. “The seniors that we have are leaving an unbelievable legacy of commitment, investment, out-working, competing. That will never leave. We’re always going to be able to tell stories about them and how they helped move this program forward.”
In a way, Saturday turned into a celebration of sorts. It was a celebration of how far the Shockers have come under Adams, of how far the seniors — most notably Jessica Diamond, Jazimen Gordon and Chynna Turner — have brought WSU.
After a few months pass, the final score of the game won’t be remembered.
“We set up teams in the future,” Diamond said. “Now all of those girls coming back know what it’s like to be in this game. Maybe next year Alex and all them can come back here and get the win.”
That’s why the Shockers weren’t as despondent as some teams with six seniors would be.
It was a deflating loss, but it couldn’t steal WSU’s belief that it will be back here sometime soon.
“The expectation is there now,” Adams said. “The bar has been set.”