LAS VEGAS — Endings are hard for anybody, especially women’s basketball coaches who have spent years on the job, and years building a program like Utah Valley coach Cathy Nixon has.
That’s what made Wednesday’s loss so hard.
But it didn’t.
“I’ve never had a team that cumulatively has put as much time on their own game. They are in there all day and all night,” an emotional Nixon said after the lone postseason game.
“They had things that they needed to work on, and they worked on it. I have a tremendous amount of respect for these young ladies. It’s been a privilege to coach them.”
Ericka Mattingly had a game-high 27 points, six rebounds and five assists to help Missouri-Kansas City hold on for a 78-75 win over Utah Valley in the opening round of the Western Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament Wednesday at Orleans Arena.
“I could not be more proud of my team, even if we would’ve won,” Nixon said. “When you are in the trenches every day, you build relationships and you really want success for them.
“That’s what makes this hard. These guys overcame a lot this year. The last time I talked like this, I was talking about being picked eighth in the league. They didn’t know our team and I think we proved some people wrong. We made some noise. And we aren’t going away, because we don’t have any seniors. We’ll just use this day to fuel us for next year.”
Alexis Cortez had 22 points and four rebounds for the Wolverines, which got 16 points from Jordan Holland.
Maria Carvalho added 12 points and seven assists for Utah Valley (14-16), and Eve Braslis supplied 10 points and seven rebounds.
The ‘Roos (16-14) jumped out to a 21-12 lead after the first quarter and held on to a 36-30 lead at halftime to cling to the win. Former Skyline star Madison Grange drained a 3-pointer in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to pull the Wolverines within one, 53-52.
But the ‘Roos responded with a 12-0 run to go up 65-52 with 7:31 left and slam the door on a comeback bid.
“We’ll remember this feeling and I’ll remember this feeling,” Cortez said. “We’re going to do exactly what we did today. We’re going to come out again, and it’s going to fuel us to do something really special next season.”
UMKC advanced to play top-seeded New Mexico State at 6 p.m. PT Thursday in Las Vegas.