Struggling mentally and emotionally, Boise State women’s basketball player Brooke Pahukoa was lost within her own mind.
The senior guard has had a sensational four years with the Broncos, including a pair of All-Mountain West selections, two Mountain West Tournament championships/MVPs and, subsequently, two NCAA Tournament berths.
Boise State (25-7) plays UCLA (23-8) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The game is in Pauley Pavilion.
At several points throughout her final season, Pahukoa lingered on the finality that is rapidly approaching.
Her last road trips. Her last practices at Taco Bell Arena. Her last Mountain West Tournament. It all hit Pahukoa in the midst of a 3-6 stretch in January. It was a perfect storm and, as a psychology major, Pahukoa knew something was wrong.
“I struggled for a while, really being able to be OK with it,” Pahukoa said. “I just got way too emotional about everything and ‘the last time’ of everything.”
Pahukoa has been a mainstay in the Boise State lineup for the better part of four seasons. She is the No. 8 all-time leading scorer in program history. Through it all, she served as the pillar of a program that has consistently been at or near the top of the Mountain West standings.
But even Pahukoa was at loss for how to handle a chapter of her life closing.
“I probably tried to motivate her with it more than I should have. ‘This is the last time we’re going to this place, this is the last time we’re going to Colorado State.’ I don’t know if that’s all that motivating,” Boise State head coach Gordy Presnell said. “I just didn’t want her to miss anything.”
After struggling to quell the negativity, Pahukoa spoke with her father, Jeff, a former NFL lineman, who provided her a new outlook. It was precisely the conversation she needed.
“It wasn’t really until I talked to my dad, and he was like, ‘How do you want to go out and be remembered?’ It kind of put things into perspective a little bit,” Pahukoa said. “Don’t think so long term. It’s one game at a time, do the best you can for each game, for each practice.”
Since that conversation at the end of February, Pahukoa and the Broncos are soaring.
Boise State has won 10 straight games and took home the Mountain West Tournament crown as a No. 4 seed. Not unexpectedly, Pahukoa played her role in the team’s turnaround. She hit a game-winning shot against New Mexico in the quarterfinals before sealing a win against top-seeded Colorado State with a pair of baskets in the final minute.
Players like Pahukoa come around once in a coaching career, according to Prensell.
“I’ve always had faith in our players, and I’ve always wanted them to believe that I have faith in them. I don’t know if you think that person is always going to make it in a pressure situation. … When the money is on the table, (Pahukoa) picks it up,” Presnell said. “That is something that doesn’t come along very often, that’s for sure.”
Presnell also didn’t mince words when describing the profound impact Pahukoa has had on him and the Broncos off the court. He is constantly reminded of Pahukoa’s attitude and graciousness each time he enters his office and sees a note she wrote him and all the coaches after a tough loss a few seasons ago.
“There were notes on every coach’s door. ‘Coach, this is what you’ve done for me, this is what you’ve done for our team.’ I still have it up in my office,” Presnell said. “She’s the only one I’ve had (like that), and I’ve been (coaching) 30 years.”
As she prepares for what could be the final game of her career, Pahukoa is finally at peace with herself and the finality of her storied career coming to a close. She is doing her best to enjoy each and every moment she has with her teammates and coaches. While she would love to deliver Boise State its first NCAA Tournament win, it isn’t her main focus.
Camaraderie and team atmosphere are what she loves and will miss most about basketball; why waste her precious final moments with teammates worrying about wins and losses?
“This would just be the icing on the cake. If my career ended today, I would be super proud of myself and of the team, all the teams that I’ve been on since I’ve been here and the university and being able to say I’m a Bronco,” Pahukoa said. “If it ended today, I would be really happy.”
No. 13 Boise State at No. 4 UCLA
- What: NCAA Tournament first round
- When: 4:30 p.m. MT Saturday
- Where: Pauley Pavilion (13,800), Los Angeles
- Records: Boise State 25-7, UCLA 23-8
- Broadcast: ESPN2 (Cable One 134, Cable One HD 1134, DirecTV 209, Dish 144)
- Radio: KTIK 1350 AM