Marian Washington found herself at a loss for words when her Kansas University women's basketball dream season came to a nightmarish end late Saturday night.
``You guys are going to have to put in perspective what this team has done,'' Washington told the assembled media after the fifth-seeded Jayhawks suffered a 79-63 loss to ninth-seeded Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament's West Regional semifinal at the Oakland (Calif.) Coliseum's New Arena. ``They're so young ... ''
Indeed they were. Kansas, as it had most of the season, started two freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors against the Razorbacks (21-10).
KU (23-9) was supposed to rebuild after losing five seniors, three senior starters, their top three scorers and every point guard with collegiate experience to graduation or defection.
``I thought getting to the NCAA Tournament was a great accomplishment,'' Washington said. ``Getting to the Sweet 16 was unbelievable. We were the last Big 12 representative. We were working with freshmen and a sophomore who was our stabilizer. I don't want them to feel bad because they came up a little short.''
Graduation will be kind to the Jayhawks next season. The only senior on the roster is Koya Scott, a reserve center who didn't score a point in the NCAA Tournament.
All five starters and the top eight scorers should return -- and be joined by a recruiting class that has been ranked among the top 10 nationally.
``We only lose one player,'' Washington said. ``And these kids want to come back (to the Sweet 16). I feel bad for them, but there's no question it helps to have freshmen taste this as freshmen. They'll be very focused. I want their hearts to heal. They've had a great, great run.''
A freshman tried to carry the Jayhawks against the Hogs. Forward Jaclyn Johnson scored a team-high 18 points.
``I felt I needed to take over and step up,'' said Johnson, a native Californian who played in front of nearly 20 friends and family members who drove up from Burbank. ``I need to take my game to a whole new level because Arkansas was too focused on my teammates. I knew I could score. I just wanted to step up and be the leader.''
That role had belonged to sophomore Lynn Pride, but Pride went 0-for-4 from the field and finished with a season-low three points in 27 foul-plagued minutes. She entered with a team-leading 15.3 points-per-game average.
``I don't think they did anything special,'' a disconsolate Pride said afterward. ``They played great defense and I had an off night. It was very frustrating. You've just got to keep your head up and keep going and play through it. We're going to walk away with our heads up high.
``This was a great experience for me, playing with new players. These freshmen did a tremendous job this year. I'll take a lot from this game and next year we'll know exactly what to do to surpass what we did this season.''
That Kansas didn't surpass the Round of 16 to make its first Elite Eight in school history was a direct result, Washington said, of foul-line disparity. Three KU starters finished with four fouls, and UA hit 19 of 25 free throws. Kansas made just five of nine.
``In the second half, they were able to get to the free throw line so early, and when Lynn Pride went to the bench, it really rattled our players,'' Washington said. ``They really hurt us at the free throw line.''
And from the floor. The Hogs hit a scorching 68 percent of their second-half field goals. And UA's full-court pressure defense forced 18 turnovers, which it turned into 18 points.
``We anticipated that they were going to press us,'' Washington said. ``We prepared to have Lynn help take the ball up the floor, but when she wasn't on the floor it took us out of what we prepared for. We had anticipated that they would press us, but we thought we could still be effective within our offense.''
Junior Suzi Raymant added 14 points for KU, and newcomer Shandy Robbins, a junior transfer, added 14 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
``I believe we could have gone further,'' Robbins said, ``but unfortunately it ended this way. I'm really frustrated, I guess, because I know we could have gone further. I just know what it takes to go further next year.''