PROVO — History will likely be kind to the 2006-07 BYU women's basketball team, certainly kinder than the Cougars are probably feeling about themselves just weeks removed from the season.
Yes, BYU upset then-No. 4 Stanford in the Preseason WNIT, successfully defended its Mountain West Conference regular-season crown, beat rival Utah twice in the same season for the first time in a half-decade and surpassed the 20-win plateau with 23 victories.
Yes, a talented and experienced squad racked up impressive league honors — Dani Wright as player of the year and first-team all-Mountain West selection; Mallary Gillespie as second-team all-MWC; Melinda Johnsen and Lauren Riley as honorable mention all-conference; and head coach Jeff Judkins as coach of the year.
And, yes, the Cougars returned this year to the top 25 rankings, to the MWC tournament championship game and to the NCAA tournament.
But it will be some time before the Cougars can shake the feelings of "what might have been" in favor of the "what was."
BYU can't help but recall a pair of overtime losses late in the Mountain West season, a 2-2 regular-season finish that kept the Cougars out of the rankings and from a higher NCAA tournament seed, and another MWC tournament finale failing, to be the tourney bridesmaid a second straight year.
And then there's the NCAA tournament, where BYU looked to match — if not improve upon — reaching the second round in 2006. Instead, the Cougars came out and played one of their most lackluster halves in the opening 20 minutes and succumbed in the 80-54 opening-round rout by Louisville.
With four-fifths of last year's starting lineup (Wright, senior guards Johnsen and Jennie Keele and junior guard Gillespie) back this past season and joined by frontliner Riley, the Cougars boasted experience and an inside-out combination of size and strong perimeter presence.
While it showed en route to records of 23-10 overall and 12-4 in MWC play, it wasn't evident in the Cougars' final two postseason losses.
Judkins and his staff face replacing the tenured trio of Keele, Johnsen and Wright — the sole three seniors departing.
Next year's starting lineup will feature returnees and seniors-to-be Gillespie from the outside and Riley underneath. Attracting even more defensive attention, the sharpshooting Gillespie will need to enhance her ability to create shots for herself, while Riley — who sometimes forced shots and committed untimely fouls — will have play in control.
They'll likely be joined by Haley Hall, who as a true freshman was seeing considerable time as the Cougars' backup point guard before blowing out a knee in late December, and Shawnee Slade, the sophomore who combined athleticism and aggressive play inside and out as Judkins' sixth player.
And the fifth starter?
It could be forward-center Cassie King, who as a sophomore sub played strong in backing up Wright and Riley. Or perhaps senior-to-be Ashley Cheesman, the San Diego State transfer who in her first BYU season finally found a late-season comfort zone in her reserve role, or redshirt freshman Lauren Nichols, a 6-foot forward from Irvine, Calif. Or perhaps it could be Mary Martha Abell, a sleek frontcourt player who saw considerable playing time as a freshman but who sat out the past two seasons after suffering opening-week knee injuries.
Judkins expects his incoming recruits — "the best recruiting class since I've been here," he said — to make immediate contributions. They include Bingham High's Megan Marks, the Utah 5A MVP this season; Chicago-area post standout Keilani Moeaki; explosive point guard Jazmine Foreman of Vancouver, Wash.; athletic forward Mindy Nielson from the Denver area; all-around standout Coriann Wood of Washington's Tri-Cities region; and lanky long-range shooter Stephanie Buehler of Oregon.
With the new half-dozen joining his current roster, Judkins will have a talented squad that can go two to three players deep at any one position.
2007-08 projected starting lineup
G — Haley Hall
G — Mallary Gillespie
C — Lauren Riley
F — Shawnee Slade
F — To be determined