Sweet 16

BYU women's basketball gets best wishes from Cougars who've been to the Sweet 16

2014-03-26T06:00:00Z BYU women's basketball gets best wishes from Cougars who've been to the Sweet 16Jared Lloyd - Daily Herald Daily Herald
March 26, 2014 6:00 am  • 

As the last dramatic moments passed in Monday night's 80-76 upset of Nebraska, the BYU women's basketball team got to bask in the feeling of reaching the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament.

For two of the women in the crowd at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, the celebration brought back some very special memories.

It has been 12 years since Melanie Pearson Day and Lisa Osguthorpe Baxter played key roles in getting the first BYU women's basketball team to that level of success.

"I remember a lot from those games," Day recalled. "The stakes were high but there wasn't a lot of pressure on us. I remember the ESPN commentators (before the second-round game) talking about how relaxed we were. We were the underdogs, so we had nothing to lose."

In 2002, the Cougars entered the "Big Dance" as the No. 11 seed, but hammered No. 6-seed Florida by 38 points in the first round.

The second round contest took place on the home floor of No. 3 seed Iowa State, in front of thousands of Cyclone fans.

"That atmosphere made it such a fun environment," Day said. "It was one of the best places in the country for women's basketball."

The game turned out to be close and exciting.

"I remember we needed someone to give us a lift," Baxter said. "We started strong but hit a lull. That's when Mel Pearson (Day) came off the bench and bam, bam, bam, we were back up."

BYU surged in front at the end to get the 75-69 upset and reach the Sweet 16, where women's basketball powerhouse Tennessee awaited.

"Getting to the Sweet 16 was a lot of fun," Day said. "UCLA had been to the Elite Eight (before Day transferred to BYU) but doing it with BYU was more rewarding because no one expected it."

Although the Cougars gave it everything they had, BYU couldn't make enough plays and ended up losing, 68-57, to the Volunteers to end the run.

"I remember how classy the Iowa State fans were," Day said. "Since the game was in Iowa, many of them came back to cheer for us. As a senior, you just don't want it to end. You want to keep going."

Both former Cougars were thrilled to have the chance to look back and remember that success Monday while watching the 2013-14 BYU squad replicate their feat.

"It's exciting to be here," Day said. "They've had such a great season. When you are done playing, you still always want to cheer for them and see the team be successful."

Their presence meant a lot to someone else as well: Cougar head coach Jeff Judkins, who was in his first year as head coach in 2001-02.

"They know how hard it was to get there," Judkins said. "To have them here to celebrate with this program is just awesome. Those two kids were big-time players too. They made some big plays for us. I know Os (Baxter) talked to the team before the first game and said this was a great opportunity so don't blow it."

Judkins told the media after the victory Monday that he kind of took that first run for granted a little bit but wouldn't do so again since it took 12 years to get back.

Day and Baxter hope the current BYU players take time to enjoy what they have done.

"I hope they have fun and don't sweat the small stuff," Day said. "It's a fun time."

Both women moved on with their lives after basketball, getting married and having families, but Day is currently in a position where she doesn't take anything for granted.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and has been battling the disease ever since.

"I'll be doing chemotherapy until next January," she said. "I think being an athlete helps you endure through pain. But really the biggest thing is perspective. The gospel (Day's LDS faith) helps me the most because no matter what happens, I'm OK with it.."

Baxter said she wish could still be Day's teammate and do more to help her friend as she deals with her health issues.

"It's awesome to be here at the NCAA tournament and relive it," Baxter said. "But this brings everything into perspective. On the court, you are out there fighting with five girls — or seven or eight or nine girls — but Melanie is fighting for everything herself and has to do it on her own. It would be nice if we could still be there for her as a team."

Baxter and Day hope the current BYU team keeps fighting on the court. Both said their advice to the Cougars is to keep fighting and trust in the coaches.

"In basketball, you never give up," Day said. "It's like Jim Valvano said. You can always change the momentum. You're never out of it."

Baxter added: "Judkins makes teams really good in the tournament. You have to trust and do it together. Go take it."

Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or jlloyd@heraldextra.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.

Copyright 2015 Daily Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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