LAFAYETTE — Before quarantines and the coronavirus shut down college basketball, Louisiana was destine to play postseason basketball for the first time since 2016, a season that carried so many emotions.
"I made a joke to our administration, that I told them we'd win a championship. I just didn't say which one," laughs Garry Brodhead as he reflects back to the team's 2105 WBI championship.
When the Cajuns returned to the Women's Basketball Invitational in 2016, they were defending champs. They were back home, and they brought back much of their experience. But this tournament, this season was nothing like the past.
"My wife passed away a few months after the first one. In the second one, we didn't have her," he said.
In September of 2015, Andrea Brodhead died, losing her battle with breast cancer. The ensuing season was dedicated to her.
"That was the whole thing in the locker room, from Keke Veal, to Kia Wilridge, to Brooklyn (Arceneaux), all the players who played for her, was we have to win it for her," he recalls, holding back emotions. "I pulled up a picture of WBI and it was packed. People were sitting on the floor. It reminded me of how the community said, this happened, but we're going to get behind this program, this family."
In 2015, the WBI tournament was chalked full of nail-bitters. The Cajuns won their final three games by a combined eight points. That wasn't the case the following season when Louisiana blew out the field, before edging Weber State in double-overtime to win the title. That season the team tied the program record winning 25 games.
"That year we were able to finish games," he remembers. "With the experience and them believing in themselves. I think that's a big part of athletics and part of why I got into coaching on the women's side. I saw young ladies 5 and 6-years-old with no confidence. Show them how to dribble a ball and it changes their lives."
This spring Louisiana was destined to return to the postseason for the first time since. Brodhead had already heard from the WBI, and the team still held onto outside shots at the Women's National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) and the NCAA Tournament when the season was abruptly ended, and the Sun Belt tournament was canceled with the Cajuns' semifinal match-up left hanging.
But should ofs, could ofs, and would ofs only cause pain and frustration.
"They tell me not to look back. That's one of the things they tell me," he said. "With this year you have to look forward, and what are the possibilities and take it moment by moment, because i f you look back it's just going to be disparity and regret, and you don't need to do that."
Louisiana won 19 games this winter. A sharp turnaround form a season ago. The team graduates one senior, forward Kendall Bess. The band is back for one more run.
"Sometimes you just lose one player and it's just not the same," Brodhead warns. "In the individual meetings I had with the players that was one of the things I brought up. We can't do the same things we did this year, in preparation, in workouts... We can't do the same things and expect better results."