PROVO — For Erin Thorn, BYU’s unexpected Sweet 16 appearance in this year’s NCAA women's tournament reminds her of a bittersweet time in her Cougar career.
“It brings back some good and bad memories,” said Thorn, who was a star guard for the BYU women’s basketball team that reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history in 2002.
As thrilling as advancing in the tournament that season was, the way it ended — with a disappointing loss to No. 2 seed Tennessee, 68-57 — still haunts her today.
“It always will because that was our one good run,” said Thorn. “We were better than Tennessee that year. We were. Maybe not individually, but as a group, we were better. You don’t want to beat yourself.”
Thorn experienced her worst shooting night against the Vols, going 3-of-22 from the field and 2-of-18 from 3-point range.
“As much of an underdog as we were, we had that game. If I would have hit just three more 3’s ” Thorn said. “We were up by nine points in the first half. If I had played even half as good as I know I could have, the game would have been different.”
Thorn sees plenty of similarities between this year’s team and the one in 2002. While the 2014 team, a No. 12 seed, upset North Carolina State and Nebraska in the first two rounds of the tournament, the 2002 squad, a No. 11 seed, knocked off Florida and Iowa State.
“The feel of this year’s team in the NCAA tournament, just watching it, was very reminiscent of what we did in 2002,” Thorn said.
BYU faces No. 1 seed UConn Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.
What advice would she give this year’s Cougars as they get set to play the mighty Huskies?
“You kind of have to ignore the hype and just play your game,” Thorn said. “It got you where you are. It clearly worked against the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds. Why not against a No. 1 seed? Even if you lose, put up a good fight.”
Thorn — who is retired after a 10-year career in the WNBA and currently works in Las Vegas as a basketball trainer for kids — said she’ll watch the BYU-UConn game.
“It’s been a great year for (the Cougars),” she said. “You just don’t want to beat yourself like I did. I don’t want them to have that regret.”
RESPECT FOR 2002 TEAM: BYU guard Lexi Eaton has watched highlights of that 2002 BYU squad.
“They had a lot of weapons on their team, great shooters, great leadership,” Eaton said. “They all bought into the system. I’ve watched film and they were a well-oiled machine. They ran the system well and worked well together. We’ve done the same thing this year.”
MAGIC MOMENT: While the BYU women’s basketball team was dining in a Los Angeles restaurant last weekend, former Los Angeles Lakers star and Hall-of-Famer Earvin "Magic" Johnson walked by.
The Cougars noticed Johnson through the window, and they stormed out of the restaurant to talk to him.
“Our team cleared the restaurant and sprinted down the street,” said Eaton.
Johnson stopped to chat with BYU players and coaches and posed for photos with them.
“It was just random,” Eaton said. “It was unreal. I was impressed with how personable he was. You’d think that he’d just take a picture and leave, but he took time to give us a fist-bump and tell us good luck and made us feel special. Not a lot of celebrities would do that.”