GREENSBORO, N.C. - The end of the era was meek, but the tears that flowed after were not all bitter.
When seniors Liz Honegger, Ali Mann and Carin Horne were subbed out with 30 seconds left in Bowling Green State University's loss yesterday in the NCAA women's basketball Sweet 16, the finality of the moment was not lost on them as their shoulders shook on the sidelines.
Neither was the magnitude of what had transpired over the last four years.
BGSU's stellar season ended with a 67-49 loss to Arizona State at Greensboro Coliseum. The Falcons stumbled early in the regional semifinal because of the Sun Devils' hot shooting and stifling pressure defense, and could never catch up.
The Falcons ended at 31-4, a Mid-American Conference record for wins. Six seniors finished their careers with a 103-25 record, the best four-year stretch in school history.
"Most of those seniors sitting in the locker room have played over 3,000 minutes in their careers," BGSU coach Curt Miller said. "We're not going to let 40 minutes take away from the 3,000 minutes, and what they have done for this program."
The Falcons were in an enviable position. They already had maximized their potential by becoming the first Mid-American Conference team to advance this far. But if their game plan worked and some shots fell, they could keep living the midmajor dream.
Third-seeded Arizona State got the upper hand quickly by making six of its first nine shots. And the Sun Devils' ball pressure was as good as advertised. Kate Achter was having trouble getting the Falcons set up in their offense, and six minutes in ASU had a 10-point lead.
So from then on it was catchup for BGSU. The Sun Devils made that tough because they kept making open jumpers. They shot nearly 61 percent in the first half to go up 16.
"We told coach before we left that we packed all of our offense for the trip out here," ASU senior Emily Westerberg said. "I have always been told that you can't shoot that bad for three games in a row."
What was frustrating for the Falcons at that point was that they had given ASU those open looks because it was not known for its outside shooting.
BGSU's defense was sagging inside to deny ASU's athletic posts.
"I looked at my teammates and we all just had this dumbfounded look on our faces, like, did they just really make that?" Achter said. "That's not in our scouting report."
And BGSU's offense rarely worked. ASU was defending the 3-point line so the Falcons' only option was to drive inside. BGSU was able to break to the basket on several occasions, but even then the Sun Devils' defense appeared, blocking eight Falcons shots.
The Falcons chipped away at the deficit to start the second half and got within nine points on two Amber Flynn free throws with 15:14 remaining. But the Sun Devils continued to pressure and eventually broke the game back open with two layups in transition and a Reagan Pariseau 3-pointer.
"Penetration was still good for us, we just didn't get enough of it," Miller said. "And once we dug ourselves a hole, they're a tough team to come back on because they're so good defensively, they will eventually string together stops and stop your momentum."
Mann scored 15 points to lead the Falcons in her final game. Horne had 12 and Flynn added 11. Miller said the senior class was the best he's ever been associated with in his 17 years of coaching.
"It's been [about] team goals since the minute they walked on campus," Miller said. "This is what they wanted. They wanted to be playing in games like this."
With four of five starters playing their final game and Miller's name being linked to job opena ings across the country, it truly did feel like the end of an era. But the group was able to enjoy it nonetheless.
When postgame interviews first began, the Falcons were silent and tear-streaked. But by the end of them, teammates were talking, smiling and even laughing a little. They remembered they had made it to the Sweet 16.
"We set records," Horne said. "It wouldn't hurt so bad if we didn't want it. But it wasn't meant to be."
"We've had too much success and too many fun times to let 40 minutes take away from that," Miller said. "We're going to have stretches today, tomorrow, but then they'll be back. It'll be over and they'll remember the good times."
Contact Maureen Fulton at:
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