A mindset changer

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A mindset changer

Members of the WSU basketball team huddle during their 71-62 win over UC Davis on March 23.

Members of the WSU basketball team huddle during their 71-62 win over UC Davis on March 23.

Members of the WSU basketball team huddle during their 71-62 win over UC Davis on March 23.

Members of the WSU basketball team huddle during their 71-62 win over UC Davis on March 23.

JACOB MOORE | Evergreen columnist

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Regardless of the 16-20 overall record, the WSU women’s basketball team displayed confidence, focus and resilience in its run to the WNIT semifinals.

The Cougars may have lost to Georgia Tech after surrendering an 11-point third quarter lead in Atlanta, but WSU showed there is a lot to be excited about with this program.

I had the privilege of interviewing former SportsCenter anchor Cindy Brunson last week. Brunson, an Edward R. Murrow College of Communication graduate, currently works for the Pac-12 Network and can often be found commentating or sideline reporting on WSU women’s basketball games at Beasley Coliseum.

Brunson followed the Cougars closely all season and called their twisting-and-turning season “transformative.”

“Night in and night out through this historic postseason run, players are finally demonstrating the ability to score and carry a team like outside observers of the program, like myself, always knew they were capable of doing,” Brunson said.

To reiterate, the program had never won a postseason game up until its first round victory over BYU on March 18. The Cougars opened even more eyes after stealing a game from Wyoming two days later to advance to the WNIT round of 16 on the back of two wins at high altitude.

For the first four postseason wins in program history to come amidst the adversity the team faced this season only makes the magical run to the WNIT Final Four even more special.

The loss of three starters, who lead their team in scoring, is usually enough to unhinge the wheels for most teams. Postseason play is almost certainly out of the picture.

That was not the case for WSU. But then again, the Cougars aren’t like most teams.

Team Manager Tye Pennella said in an interview that the importance of resisting hardships and instead using them as an opportunity to create success is something all WSU fans can relate to.

“The amount of injuries and obstacles this team has faced would make any team give up and become stagnant,” Pennella said. “Yet, this team has stayed true to its identity [and] more importantly, to each other to overcome [them] and thrive when most people thought it wasn’t possible.”

Failure, in my opinion, is the leading cause of success. We fall many times before taking our first step.

The Cougars fell a lot during the regular season and fell once more in the semifinals. But because of it, they’ll again get back up stronger next season.

“In the coming years and especially next season, this team is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12,” Brunson said. “Now they’ve had of taste of what it takes and how gratifying it feels to win postseason games, they will undoubtedly want to take the next step and have some serious success in the NCAA Tournament.”

Head Coach June Daugherty said the culture of the program changed after the Cougars fought through altitude and a hostile Cowgirls crowd to snare a 68-67 overtime win in Laramie on March 20.

In three days, the WNIT field had dwindled from 64 teams to 16, and the (14-19) Cougars, the only team with a sub-.500 record to earn a berth in the tournament, were one of them.

Fans welcomed WSU home, packing Beasley Coliseum with the largest crowd of the season for a game against UC Davis on March 23. The game was anything but quiet. The Aggies finished the regular season with 10 more wins than WSU and won a pair of road games to begin the WNIT, but the neat thing about postseason hoops is that a team’s overall record does not matter.

WSU led UC Davis by double digits for the majority of the game and took a nine-point victory into a quarterfinal matchup at Iowa last Sunday. You may notice there is a recurring theme about WSU’s opponents in the WNIT.

“Just about every opponent the Cougs had to face came off 20-plus win seasons, [were] taller, quicker, and in some cases, even more skilled than ours,” Pennella said. “But throughout it all, these ladies never stopped playing hard and playing for each other and the Coug Nation.”

More than 5,000 Hawkeye fans were still not enough to halt WSU on its “tour across America.” Iowa played well, but WSU held the lead from start to finish in the win.

The Cougars ran out of gas against Georgia Tech in the fourth quarter on Wednesday and fell just short of taking on Michigan in Saturday’s WNIT Championship. But even before the game was played, Brunson said regardless of the outcome, there is something bigger to look forward to.

“This is a program that once hoped to win games,” she said, “and now is a program which knows it can win games.”