SEATTLE — The paradoxes in Montana State's season-ending 91-63 women's basketball loss to high-powered Washington on Saturday night were most evident in star Peyton Ferris.
On the one hand, the Bobcats' senior forward acknowledged a moment of starry-eyed awe. After all, they were playing on the sport's biggest stage for the first time in 24 years, against the NCAA's top all-time leading scorer (Kelsey Plum) and the nation's top rebounder (Chantel Osahor), in front of a purple-packed Alaska Airlines Arena, and on national TV.
"You have been hearing about them on SportsCenter all year and watching them on TV and so just the opportunity to play against them was awesome," Ferris said of Plum and Osahor. "I don't know if I have ever respected two opponents more than those two. It was surreal to go out and play and leave it all out there. Losing is not fun, but you can't be disappointed by the season."
On the other hand, 14th-seeded MSU (25-7) took the fight to third-seeded Washington early, leading 17-16 after one quarter and showing the determined group wasn't about to melt under the bright lights. Ferris scored 33 points and the Bobcats never quit scrapping even as the Huskies' athleticism, speed, length and girth took an inevitable toll.
"There's a reason they went to the Final Four last season," 12th-year MSU coach Tricia Binford said. "But at the same time, I challenged our kids to think about why we are here and what they have earned over the course of their consistent season. We challenged our kids to bring a level that they always bring to the table and match that. I thought we attacked that in the first quarter."
Over time, Plum's sheer talent and leadership combined with the uncommon blend of size and deceptive athleticism in Osahor wore down the Bobcats.
Plum, after a shaky 3-for-11 shooting start due in part to Delany Junkermeier's dogged pursuit, was a jet in the open court and finished with 29 points. Osahor had 16 points and 19 rebounds, using her massive body and footwork deftly.
"You can watch her on film and obviously her strength shows, but until you are truly trying to box her out or get position, you don't know," Binford said. "There were possessions where we had the position and there is nothing I can ask more of from my players and she still got the rebound. Her timing on the glass is phenomenal."
Afterward, there were red eyes and disappointment, but the Bobcats couldn't help but appreciate what they've accomplished. Guard Riley Nordgaard even managed a few smiles as she greeted the media.
They had proven they belonged in this environment.
"I think people know it," Nordgaard said. "I would hope people know it. This isn't just a today sort of deal, this was all season long. This team works really hard and returns from deficits or remains on top, and I think that was showcased today."
Binford, too, managed a few smiles as she recapped her team's effort. As she gathered her kids after the postgame press conference, Binford walked over to MSU President Waded Cruzado and shared an embrace.
"You were incredible today," Cruzado told her.
To Binford, it was a moment that encapsulated an entire season.
"This has just been an amazing week and what everybody has done, including our president, our university, our administration, the spirit squad and band ... just the whole spirit of Montana State got to be showcased tonight and this week," she said. "One of the things I told the team in the locker room afterward was our crowd and community is just as proud of them as they were last week.
"We didn't get the 'W' today but I thought our players put it out there."