If there's one thing this town does, it's provide people with false hope and broken dreams. Apparently, it does the same thing to underdog basketball teams.
That's the experience BYU will be taking home with it after losing in the WAC semifinals to Rice 65-57 Friday afternoon.The loss ended the Cougars' surprise run. After riding Lady Luck for upset wins over Fresno State and Utah, BYU seemed destined to roll through the tournament, grab an NCAA Tournament bid and bask in all the glory of post-season play.
At night, some of the Cougar players even dreamed of what the NCAAs would be like.
"We know we're not a top 20 team, and this was our only chance to get to the NCAA Tournament," said forward Kari Gallup. "It gave us hope and made us feel good. We were totally thinking about it. We were excited."
Reality can be cruel. In this town, BYU just became the latest victim.
BYU controlled the first 16 minutes of the game, scoring inside at will and shutting down the Owls' offensive attack. With 3:46 remaining in the period, the Cougars were up 34-24.
"When the game started, none of us were here mentally," said Rice point guard Charonda Wilson. "Once we went down 10, it was like, `Whoa, we better wake up.' Once we did, we did great."
Counting the final 3:30 of the first half and the first 12 minutes of the second, Rice outscored BYU 32-12.
Reasons for the Rice turnaround were easy to find. In the second half, the Owls out-re-bounded BYU 29-18, including 15 offensive boards.
All those boards led to easy putbacks, which primarily built the Owls' lead. It also crumbled the Cougars' spirits.
"After playing great defense, forcing them into a tough shot only to watch them get the rebound and a lay-up, yeah, that weighs on your mind," said Gallup. "We get a few of those boards, we're right there at the end."
The other improvement Rice made was on Gallup herself. The Cougar senior blistered the nets for 14 points in the first 20 minutes. She finished the game with 18.
"We clamped down on her," said Marla Brumfield, who also had 18 but for Rice. "She can shoot, so we just focused on getting a hand up. I don't think she had more than one open look the second half."
The game was BYU's third in five nights, which may have led to Gallup's poor second-half play.
"I wasn't dying, but I was a little tired," said Gallup. "Shots I usually hit were coming up short. That usually comes with tired legs."
For BYU, the year is over. There will be no NCAA bid. But its 15-13 record, including two wins over nationally ranked Utah, is, according to first-year coach Trent Shippen "a lot more than anybody expected from us."
Still, to come so close will weigh on the players' minds. Especially Gallup's.
"It'll eat at me a little," she said. "I don't know what would have happened (in the championship) Saturday, but I sure would have liked to find out."