RENO, Nev. — Jessica Thompson will shed tears of joy on the court before her Boise State playing career is over. She'll celebrate with teammates, perhaps cut down some nets and cry the sweetest of tears.
And when that day arrives, she'll no doubt think back to Friday. She'll remember a free throw that clung to the rim long enough to make you think that it might drop — and somehow it didn't. She'll recall the tears of pain that overflowed before she could get off the court and likely still haven't stopped.
Thompson, a freshman guard, missed the second of two free throws with 6.5 seconds remaining in the sixth-seeded Broncos' 60-59 loss to No. 7 seed New Mexico State in Friday's WAC Tournament semifinals.
"I'm going to shake it off eventually, but it's going to take a while," Thompson said.
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It will linger through the summer, when you just know that Thompson is going to hoist countless free throws. And behind each one will be the memory of the ball falling off the rim Friday.
The missed free throw — which it should be noted came after Thompson corralled an offensive rebound amid a crowd of New Mexico State players and drew a foul on her put-back attempt — effectively ended the Broncos' season just shy of their stated goal of a winning season.
The Broncos ended the season 15-15. Rarely has a .500 season, even one that included seven losses in the final 10 games, engendered so much optimism.
Under first-year head coach Gordy Presnell and behind strong rookie campaigns from Thompson and Rebecca Kepilino, the Broncos posted their first non-losing season since 1999-2000.
With seven of their top nine players returning, including four of five starters, and four scholarships available, the Broncos' future appears bright. Hope is not something the program is familiar with. Its last winning season came in 1997-98.
"It's definitely a start. We're just going to use this next year to set a tone," said junior center Michelle Hessing, who emerged as a low-post force in the final weeks of the season. "We're going to achieve more than we did this year and we already know it."
Thompson, who led the Broncos in scoring (12.7 points per game) and steals (2.34 per game) this year, will be a key piece — perhaps the biggest one — in any resurgence of the program.
The fiery 5-foot-9 Thompson is a winner.
She led her Temecula Valley High team to a 95-11 record, including a 32-0 league mark, in four prep seasons. Her club team, which included Kepilino and BSU freshman Jenna Galassi, won 14-of-15 tournaments last summer.
Losing is not something she's accustomed to. Failing to convert a free throw with the game on the line? That just doesn't happen to her, at least not often.
Thompson is determined that it won't happen again.
"She'll work her tail off and she'll get better. She's had some hard knocks this year and had some pretty easy times, too," Presnell said. "Hopefully, she'll grow from that."
There are other lessons for Thompson, who was tagged with a costly technical foul after converting on a driving layup that cut the deficit to 52-51 with 5 minutes, 33 seconds remaining. In her celebration, Thompson caught New Mexico State guard Monique Bribiescas in the face with an elbow.
But it's the free throw that will stick with her the longest. New Mexico State players said they were delivering their best smack talk in an attempt to unnerve Thompson. The Aggies also called timeout before the second free throw.
But Thompson, to her credit, accepted the blame.
"I should have made it," she said several times after the game.
She'll always feel that way. Nothing will change that.
But at some point in the next three seasons, Thompson will deliver in a similar situation for the Broncos. The seed for that future victory, that future celebration, was planted Friday.