STORRS, Conn. – Senior forwards Shenita Landry and Shanea Cotton watched from the bench as everything they put into this season and their careers – the 6 a.m. practices, the extra study sessions, the bumpy bus rides – came crashing down Sunday afternoon.
No. 8-seeded Florida defeated the women’s basketball team, 70-57, at Gampel Pavilion, once again sending the No. 9-seeded Owls home after only one round in the NCAA Tournament.
Landry’s final moment as an Owl came with 1:01 left in the game. With her team down 68-55, she fouled Florida’s senior guard Sha Brooks. A mixture of frustration and disappointment etched across her face as Landry walked off the court, head lowered, shoulders slumped, fouling out after a team-high 13 points and four rebounds.
But as she prepared to take her seat on the bench, coach Tonya Cardoza motioned toward the co-captain and Atlantic Ten Conference’s Most Improved Player, embracing her and whispering a few words in her ear.
“Coach just said she wished she could coach me for three more years, and I wish I could learn three more years of stuff from her like I did this past year,” Landry said, her voice quivering as she held back tears at the press conference podium. “This year was a big year for me. I’ve done a lot of things I’d never done before, and I learned a lot of things I never did before.”
In Landry’s first three seasons on campus, she averaged 4.6 points per season and 4.8 rebounds.
But this year, the soft-spoken senior stepped out of the shadows of former Temple forwards Candice Dupree, Kamesha Hairston and Lady Comfort, leading all Owls players with 12.1 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game, including 11 double-doubles. The A-10 coaches voted her Second Team All-A-10 and All-Defensive Team, as well.
“Coach Cardoza taught me to be confident in what you do, and good things will happen. In past years, I didn’t have that,” Landry said. “I’ve been here the past three years, and we won each year, but I’ll just take away from her those little things.”
And perhaps, in the right situation, after she’s done fielding any professional basketball offers from here or overseas, the accounting major will pass on her own little nuggets of knowledge as a coach someday.
Former Owls coach Dawn Staley predicted as much before she left for South Carolina this season, emphasizing Landry’s ability to “understand the game” and “pick and choose her spots.”
And so, it was Landry who primarily spoke to the team after the loss.
“Everybody was down, but we just all had to come together,” she said. “A lot of people still have more basketball to play. They’ve just got to learn from the game.”
Fellow frontcourt mate Cotton certainly did. The senior forward’s relationship with Cardoza could only be described as a work in progress early on in the season, but the coach pulled her out of the game with 49 seconds remaining in the game and 12 points beside her name on the scoreboard so the crowd, her coaches and her teammates could acknowledge her contributions.
“We went through our ups and downs and our complications because I’m hardheaded. I don’t take too well to authority,” Cotton said. “But we got through it, and I really loved her as my coach this year.”
Next year, Cardoza and the Owls return three starters – junior guards LaKeisha Eaddy and Kristie Watkins-Day and freshman forward Kristen McCarthy. Sophomore guards Lindsay Kimmel and Shaqwedia Wallace, as well as junior forward Jasmine Stone, all key contributors off the bench, will be back as well.
All will have one year of new coaching and a new offensive system under their belts.
“Like Shenita said, Coach has instilled a lot of confidence in all of us. Everybody on the team is going to take that confidence and grow as players,” Eaddy said. “Unlike Shenita, I do have another year with her, and I’m in a new position, so I’m going to take whatever she tells me and try to be a leader.”
While Cardoza’s first NCAA Tournament game at the coaching helm didn’t end quite the way she wanted it to, a 21-10 record, second-place finish in the A-10 Conference and an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament are nothing to complain about. Most experienced coaches would take that.
“I never thought that I’d have the type of season that I had,” Cardoza said. “You know, it’s difficult when you take over a program, especially at Temple, when you have Dawn Staley, a legend, and all these kids came to play for her. For them to open up and let down their walls, and let me in and give me a chance, I definitely credit them for that.”
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at email@example.com.