Losing to nationally-ranked Tennessee on its home court in a competitive game would be a boon for many unranked mid-major programs.
But this trip was different and the Wichita State women’s basketball team is different, as it showed its prowess against one of the nation’s best but was left with a 54-51 loss on Tuesday in the homecoming of their coach, Jody Adams.
Now the Shockers must sort through their emotions in a hurry, as they return home to host the Shocker Winter Classic for a second straight year. Four teams will play two games on back-to-back days at Koch Arena, starting Friday with WSU taking on Louisiana-Monroe.
The Shockers (6-3) will also host Winthrop on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s heartbreak,” Adams said of the aftermath from the Tennessee game. “We had multiple opportunities the last minute of the game to take advantage of some things and we just didn’t execute. We had our opportunities. It was a heartbreaker.”
After Alex Harden completed a three-point play to cut Tennessee’s lead to 50-48 under two minutes remaining, Wichita State produced the stop it needed and had the ball with a chance to tie.
Harden had the step on her defender and lowered her shoulder as she barreled down the lane. Instead of the block foul Adams was wanting, referees ruled it an offensive foul.
Then WSU had two separate chances to rebound Tennessee misses on the ensuing possessions, but failed to do so and gave up a layup. A desperation three-pointer from Kelsey Jacobs cut the lead to 52-51 with 18 seconds left, but then WSU allowed 13 seconds to run off before fouling.
The opponent, the setting, the feel of the game was all reminiscent of Wichita State’s NCAA Tournament loss at Penn State last season, where it pushed a ranked team to its limits on its home floor only to lose in the final minute.
“That’s part of the deal, you have to respond to tough losses,” Adams said. “I hope that this loss puts a fire in these guys and drive them. Replaying that final minute (Thursday) at practice, I hope they can show how upset they are this weekend.”
The competition will be a step down, although Louisiana-Monroe (4-3) and Winthrop (5-3) each pose their own threats to WSU.
It will be a challenge for this team, one that Adams is curious to see how they will respond to after the disappointment in Knoxville.
“We’re getting two quality games in right before the Christmas break,” Adams said. “I think we’re looking at where we are in our non-conference schedule and seeing where our team is heading into the Valley. We’ve got some things we need to work on and that’s consistency.”
Shocker Winter Classic
At Koch Arena
George Mason (5-4) vs. Winthrop (5-3), 4:05 p.m.
La.-Monroe (4-3) at Wichita St. (6-3), 7:05
George Mason vs. La.-Monroe, 12:05 p.m.
Winthrop at Wichita St., 3:05 p.m.