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Women’s Basketball: McDonald – Cajuns’ ‘shining moment’ arrives

McDonald: Cajuns’ ‘shining moment’ arrives

UL’s women’s basketball program has been waiting for 36 years for what the NCAA Tournament likes to call "one shining moment."

Regardless of what happens from here on, no moment may ever shine as much as one that came just after 7:30 p.m. Monday at J. Kelley and Meredith Hall’s home.

When "UL Lafayette" flashed onto television screens across the country during ESPN’s selection show for the NCAA Tournament, it shocked the country, the state, the city and the university.

It shocked everyone, with the exception of the 20 or so gathered at the Hall home. They, the Cajun coaches and players, thought they had a shot at a bid to the "Big Dance," even if nobody else gave them a chance.

There it was, live and in color. All it took was the image on the screen, that one line, because nobody in that living room heard anything that was said about the Cajun squad. There was too much screaming for that.

Kelley Hall had broken down the bracket time and again. He came up with 29 teams that were a lock for the 33 at-large slots in the 64-team bracket. The other four were anyone’s guess.

"You don’t know what the committee’s going to do," Hall said. "But they did the right thing for this team."

There’s no way of knowing if the committee, one chaired by LSU senior associate athletic director Judy Southard and including Western Kentucky athletic director Wood Selig, knew that much about the UL program’s background.

Maybe they didn’t know that the program was a laughing stock for most of its first three decades. In the decade of the ’90s, between Jan. 1, 1990 and Dec. 31, 1999, the Cajuns won a grand total of 45 games – an average of fewer than five games a year.

And it wasn’t just that they lost. They lost badly. Close games were treated as moral victories.

When Hall arrived in 2002, the string of losing seasons was at 14, and it quickly became 16 in his first two years. But the Cajuns started achieving a measure of respectability in those two years, and finally broke through in the 2004-05 season with a 22-9 record and a Sun Belt Western Division title.

But that year, and even the next year’s 18-10 season, the Cajuns weren’t even considered for a postseason berth even with their new-found success. The program had to earn its wings, after being grounded for so many years.

That’s what made Monday’s bid announcement so much sweeter. So many years of struggling, of suffering, so many players and coaches who endured all the hard times, all of that finally cast aside by a few words across a television screen.

There’s no way of knowing if the selection committee knew of those struggles, and it didn’t need to. What happened in the past should have no bearing on who gets selected each season, and it probably didn’t have any bearing this year.

But it certainly made for one oh-so-shining moment.