Ousted UTM still positive

Ousted UTM still positive
Ousted UTM still positive | University of Tennessee at Martin skyhawk women's basketball

TIME! – Skyhawk Head Coach Kevin McMillan (from left) takes a moment with lone senior Alicia Weatherly, Gibson County freshman Heather Butler and Milan freshman Perica Glenn during the team’s match-up against Duke on Saturday. Butler led her team in s

TIME! – Skyhawk Head Coach Kevin McMillan (from left) takes a moment with lone senior Alicia Weatherly, Gibson County freshman Heather Butler and Milan freshman Perica Glenn during the team’s match-up against Duke on Saturday. Butler led her team in scoring with 15 points.                                                 Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski

Kevin McMillan took a “glass half-full” approach to UT Martin’s historic first-ever NCAA Women’s Tournament appearance.

“Here’s the thing I take from it: We were down by 10 at the half to the No. 6 team in the country on their home floor with the youngest Division I team in America,” the Skyhawk coach said after his team was eventually whipped 90-45 by Duke in Saturday’s first round game in the Philadelphia Regional on the Blue Devils’ homecourt in Durham, N.C.

“And I’d only give our performance a B-minus at best in that first half.”
A heavy underdog as a 15th seed to No. 2 Duke, Ohio Valley Conference Tournament champion UTM faded badly in the second half when the combination of the Blue Devils’ far superior size and strength and the Skyhawks’ poor shooting fueled a 49-14 onslaught by the host team to blow open what was a relatively-competitive matchup in the game’s first 20 minutes.

UT Martin (21-11) made just five field goals in the second half when it shot just 26 percent (5-of-19) from the field and had as many turnovers as it did total points.

Still, McMillan, who guided the Skyhawks women’s program to a first-ever NCAA tourney bid in just his second season after UTM had won just two games the year before he was hired, did not characterize the lopsided loss as “a bad apple that spoiled the whole bushel.”

“I think if you look around at the other 1 (seed) vs. 16 and 2 vs. 15 games, ours was one of the closest ones that there was at the half. For 20 minutes, we were competitive,” the coach said. 

“The kids fought with everything they had.

“I believe when you look at the entire body of work of our season, the positives and gains far outweigh the negatives and losses. You have to remember that the overwhelming majority of these kids were in high school a year ago at this time. Really, what they’ve accomplished is amazing, considering their inexperience on the collegiate level.”

Nonetheless, the season-ending loss to a heralded foe and one McMillan says “is one of the seven or eight teams that have a chance to win it all,” came with the expected disappointment and emotional overflow — especially from the squad’s lone senior, Alicia Weatherly.

“They were upset right after the game in the dressing room and still are a little,” McMillan said some four hours after the contest. 

“I think the biggest reason for that is because they realized after the first half that they belonged in the tournament. In the second half, some things went wrong for them and things sort of snowballed and got out of hand.
“It was emotional for Weatherly with it being her last game and with the road she took to get here. Not many people could’ve sat out like she did from high school, then come here and be a vital part of what we’ve done like she has.”

McMillan also used the final seconds to get sophomore Allison Wright — the only other player other that Weatherly with college experience on the roster entering the season — into the game. 

Wright, who torn an anterior cruciate ligament in her knee last season and was granted a medical redshirt, tore her other ACL in practice last week and is likely facing more surgery and an uncertain playing future.

With nine freshmen this season, including the widely-lauded backcourt tandem of Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome and steady Jaclissa Haislip, even better days and years are likely on the horizon for a program that was just one win shy of its most victories in a season in program history this season.

And they could take some solace from the sportsmanship shown them by the Duke fans who were courtside at famed Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday who offered a respectful ovation when McMillan removed four of the frosh from the game in the final seconds.

“Being from North Carolina myself and knowing how knowledgeable Duke fans are about basketball, I think it meant something to the kids and I know it did to me that we got a standing ovation,” the coach concluded.

“They recognized what a feat it was to be as young as we are and to come in here and hang with them for a half. That means something. They knew we battled.

“I think when the kids sit down and take a deep breath after a few days or few weeks, they’ll all look back and be proud.”
It didn’t take nearly that long for McMillan.

Contact the sports department by email at wcpsports@frontiernet.net.

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