Before the Wichita State women’s basketball team was to play its final game of the season at Koch Arena on Saturday afternoon, coach Jody Adams called each player to the dry-erase board in the locker room.
They each took turns writing the one word they wanted the team to be remembered for. After the players had all wrote their words, Adams finished with hers: resilient.
“I had warmth in my heart knowing that my teammates really feel a certain way,” WSU junior TaQuandra Mike said. “They really care. When caring and the love is there, then you have to put your heart on the line for them.”
Wichita State (8-21, 5-13 Missouri Valley Conference) proved its coach right in a 54-53 victory over Indiana State, a win that will be swallowed up in time by the fact the Shockers just wrapped up their first 20-loss season in eight years.
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But this win, at least on Saturday, felt different.
It’s been a trying season, from the injuries to the losing, but this team still deeply cares and that much was obvious in the closing seconds when Indiana State had the ball, down one point, with 11 seconds left.
Allowing a basket would mean another loss in the final game in a season full of losses. But finding the will to produce a stop, now that would take the heart of a resilient team.
“We owed it to our fans,” WSU sophomore Rangie Bessard said. “They stuck behind us the whole season. It’s easy to give up, but they never gave up on us, so why give up on them? We did it for our coaching staff and we did it for ourselves.”
Out of the timeout, Indiana State’s Cierra Ceazer penetrated the lane and hoisted an 8-foot shot with four seconds left. The rebound came off to Kelsey Dirks, but her shot slipped off her hand and the loose ball was swatted away by Bessard to ensure victory.
“Before the game, (Adams) said, ‘Mop the floor with your hustle,’ ” WSU senior Jaleesa Chapel said. “I think in that last second, it finally clicked in all of our heads. That 50-50 ball, we knew we had to get it.”
“Prayer and hustle and attitude,” Mike added. “We refused to let them put the ball in the hole basically.”
Adams beamed at her team as they celebrated. This was a team that grew up on Saturday, she thought.
Before the final rally, Wichita State had fallen behind 11-0 in the opening minutes of the game and all of those words left on the dry-erase board in the locker room seemed to be just words.
“I just told them to wake up,” Adams said. “Don’t let this time pass. We talked about who we wanted to be and what we wanted to leave between the lines and you’re far from doing what you said you were going to do. And they responded.”
Wichita State was led by the trio of Bessard, Mike, and Chapel, who combined for 43 points and 23 rebounds.
The Shockers will play Bradley in the MVC Tournament play-in round Thursday in Moline, Ill.
“When you have a team that’s finally figuring out how to play to win, instead of playing not to lose, then you have something as a coach that you’re working with,” Adams said. “I do believe behind every fearless player is a fearless coach and a fearless team, and I think that’s what we have.”
INDIANA STATE (13-16, 9-9): Taia 1-7 1-2 3, Ceazer 6-16 0-0 14, Mackowiak 3-7 0-0 8, Marshall 6-16 5-11 17, Smith 0-2 1-2 1, Webb 3-6 0-0 6, Haskins 0-0 0-0 0, Artis 0-1 0-0 0, Wentland 0-0 0-0 0, Dirks 2-7 0-0 4. Totals 21-62 7-15 53.
WICHITA STATE (8-21, 5-13): Lockhart 0-7 2-2 2, Lozada-Cabbage 0-0 0-0 0, Mike 6-12 3-4 16, Chapel 2-7 6-6 10, Bessard 5-14 7-8 17, Mortimer 0-0 0-0 0, Stovall 2-6 1-2 5, Francis 2-8 0-0 4, Martin 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-55 19-22 54.
Three-point shooting – ISU 4-20 (Ceazer 2-5, Mackowiak 2-5, Smith 0-1, Artis 0-1, Taia 0-2, Marshall 0-3, Webb 0-3), WSU 1-7 (Mike 1-3, Chapel 0-1, Francis 0-1, Lockhart 0-2). Rebounds – ISU 42 (Webb 9), WSU 42 (Mike 9). Assists – ISU 11 (four with 2), WSU 6 (Chapel, Stovall 2). Fouls – ISU 15, WSU 17. A – 1,627.