March 19, 2023
‘What a season’: Saint Louis’ magical run ends with loss to Tennessee
Flowers looks back on her accomplishments and what’s ahead for the Billikens
After Saint Louis’ 95-50 loss to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 18, head coach Rebecca Tillett was asked to reflect on her first season at the helm.
Her response: “What a season.”
“I think just for this group, the staff, the student-athletes, our leadership, our support staff, what we accomplished is not easy,” Tillett added. “Anybody that’s been around the game a long time knows that.”
It’s the end of the road for the team that started the season 6-16 before going on a magical run to the Atlantic 10 championship, winning 11 of its last 12 conference games just to reach the NCAA Tournament (with only a mid-February loss to Richmond) before losing on Saturday in Knoxville.
In conversations with other championship coaches, including those at Saint Louis, Tillett noted one common theme in the conversations: that winning is hard and is made up of a lot of work, investment and sacrifice.
“I think that’s just a testament to every single woman in that locker room and everyone that touched our program for staying the course during the more difficult moments and then learning so quickly,” Tillett said. “Even today, even in the moments that were not successful, the things that we were able to attempt to execute, we had no chance doing that 20 games ago because we hadn’t been together long enough, learned enough together. So just to continue to build on that foundation over and over again is why this team will go down in history.”
After pulling within two early in the second quarter, Saint Louis was outscored 24-2 over the final 7:59 in the second quarter, and went without a point for six minutes and 35 seconds before halftime. The team was able to limit Tennessee offensively with some success in the third quarter as the Billikens also saw their shot fall, but were outscored 28-9 in the fourth quarter.
Saint Louis showed flashes of the defensive success that helped them win an A-10 championship but shooting woes and Tennessee’s shooting success — the Vols made 52.9% of their shots — as well as their size proved to be too much for the Billikens.
Early in the season, Saint Louis was working on growing and improving together and while the results were not evident on the scoreboard at first, as the season continued that began to change. The Billikens won two games in a row for the first time this season on Jan. 28 and Feb. 1 en route to the program’s first A-10 championship and NCAA Tournament appearance.
The team had to work to combine the experiences of the transfers from Longwood, transfers from other schools, those that played at Saint Louis under former head coach Lisa Stone and the freshmen.
After the loss to Tennessee, senior Kyla McMakin reflected on how quickly the team clicked and developed.
“It was so quick that we all embraced one another … everyone easily went into what the core values were,” McMakin said. “We were able to take everything — coming from so many different places and different backgrounds … I don’t think a lot of teams could have connected as fast or have been able to do the season that we did in the first year.”
Graduate student Brooke Flowers, who came back for her fifth season with the intention of winning an A-10 championship and playing in the NCAA Tournament (no matter how improbable it seemed last April), believes the team’s investment into each other and the process is what helped them reach the Big Dance.
“I couldn’t be more thankful just for my teammates and this group, for all of us working together and believing that we could do this and that a championship was a possibility,” Flowers said. “And then going out and achieving that. So that’s something that I’ll always be able to remember, look back on, and that’s kind of like forever. We’ll forever be the first champions.”
One day before the game, she told reporters “Why not have one of your best personal [and] team performances on a historic court like Tennessee? So, look around at all of the greatness that’s around you and then do what you are great at. I think that’s my goal.”
Flowers finished the game with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds, five blocks and one steal — her 10th game of the season with five or more blocks. Her five blocks also helped her pass women’s basketball legend Rebecca Lobo for 18th place on the NCAA all-time blocks list with 398.
Upon hearing that, Flowers was surprised, initially responding, “First of all, wow. That’s kind of cool” before elaborating.
“I just think that I’ve always been a defensive player first,” Flowers said. “[my] offensive game hasn’t really always been the best. Even now it’s okay. Not like Kyla. She can create her own shot at any time. Defense has been my thing. Coming into the game, and into any game really, I just want to bring [my] defensive presence as much as I can.”
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At halftime against Tennessee, Flowers was disappointed she only had one block and challenged herself in the second half to get more.
“I did, so that was nice,” she said. “I have a defensive mindset and I wanted to just block as many shots as I could get my hands on.”
She finished her answer smiling, noting, “[I] feel like I could have got a few more.”
The two-time A-10 Defensive Player of the Year told The Next in February 2022 that when she started playing, she was the “furthest thing from natural when it came to basketball” and that she traveled almost every time she got the ball. In the years since, the chants of “pass it, pass it” stopped filling the gym and eventually gave way to cheers in arenas — and a career send-off in March Madness.
“[I’m] very proud of myself and just seeing all the growth of so many people, like [Julia Martinez] and [Peyton Kennedy] from when they came in, to where they are now,” Flowers said. “So just the growth that has occurred in the program, in the city of St. Louis. So just to be able to say I was a part of that means a lot.”
Tillett was thrilled to hear Flowers say she’s proud of herself, rhetorically asking, “Isn’t that what we want for student-athletes? To invest fully in the culture?”
Flowers, a St. Louis native, went to high school at Metro Academic and Classical High School, just a mile and a half away from Chaifetz Arena. She chose Saint Louis to remain close to home and while there she was able to continue to make history over her five-year career, all in front of family and friends. Flowers even stayed at Saint Louis after Tillett took over, committing to the culture of the program once again and this season set numerous records after becoming the program’s all-time leader in blocks last season.
After the game, Tillett borrowed a tradition she borrowed from her father and went with her staff to talk to each senior, telling them something while still in the emotion of the final game of the season.
“What did Saint Louis University need? Brooke Flowers,” Tillett recalled saying in the press conference. “They needed her to stay and needed her to commit and do all the things she did to break those records and lead us here.”
Though this was Flowers’ last collegiate game, she looks forward to watching the program continue to reach new heights and seeing what they accomplish next.
“I’ll always be a Billiken, always be watching, so I’m excited to see,” Flowers said.
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