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NCAA WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Loyola Still Finds Rewards

March 22, 2004|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

Fourth-seeded Baylor took Loyola Marymount, the 13th-seeded team, out of the Midwest Regional of the NCAA women's tournament Saturday with a 71-60 first-round victory in Albuquerque.

But no one can take away from Loyola Marymount its accomplishments for the 2003-04 basketball season -- a 24-6 mark, a school-record 15-game winning streak, the West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament championships and its first NCAA tournament bid.

"There were so many 'firsts' for us," said guard Kate Murray, who ended her career with a 27-point effort. "We have done so much this year even though we came up short in the [Baylor] game.

"It was a group of 16 people that believed we could win and had the confidence and determination to work for a common goal. More than anything, we were able to play very close to our maximum potential."

Murray, who will graduate in May with a master's degree in business, is one of five seniors on the team. The other four -- Michele Brown, Jasmin Matthews, Raelen Self and Adrianne Slaughter -- will collect their undergraduate degrees.

Coach Julie Wilhoit is delighted by their academic achievements. She is also grateful to the quintet for helping bring national attention to the Loyola Marymount program.

"Those players, as well as the rest of the team, helped us reach a point where we could compete on a national level and make the NCAA tournament," Wilhoit said. "This group set the goals of winning the conference regular-season title, the tournament title and NCAA title, and only one goal was not met.

"It was an amazing group of players who knew what they wanted to accomplish, then went out and did it -- especially the seniors, on and off the court. I am so proud of them as players, but I'm even more excited for them as people."

Even though the Lions never had a lead against Baylor (25-8), they had chances to pull off the upset. Down, 37-25, at halftime, the Lions trailed by only four, at 59-55, after a three-pointer by Rachel Zieman with 4:23 left to play. But that was as close as Loyola got.

"I don't think [the loss] will hit me until a few days later," Murray said. "We wanted a better ending. But overall, we couldn't ask for a better year."

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