Gonzaga's Elle Tinkle was named to the all-West Coast Conference preseason team. (Photo courtesy Gonzaga University)

SEATTLE, Wash. – Elle Tinkle hoped it would end differently, at least later.

Tinkle scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds for the Gonzaga women in their loss to Oklahoma in the opening round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. It was the final game in a Bulldogs uniform for the senior from Missoula.

“Going through in the locker room, I just shared that this was the senior year that I tried to envision for myself,” said Tinkle, the all-state star who spent her high school career at Missoula Big Sky. “So, I’m grateful for the chance to come back and not have to end my career being sidelined, or not getting to spend it with my teammates. I’m grateful; obviously would have liked today to go a little differently, would have liked to maybe have a little less regret about how we started and see if that had changed things a little bit. But it sure beats ending your season—no disrespect to the WNIT or anything, but it doesn’t really compare to where we’re at right now. So, grateful for the opportunity to come back and we still had a lot of really great experiences this year that I got to be a part of. I’m very thankful that this is how I got to end. Would have liked to have extended it a little more. It’s going to hurt for a little bit, but looking back I wouldn’t change anything.”

Gonzaga, the 11-seed, couldn’t keep pace with the sixth-seeded Sooners, who opened a 13-poind lead after the first quarter and kept that advantage at halftime. The Bulldogs chipped the lead to single digits in the third, but Tinkle admits were gassed after expending that energy.

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“Yeah, it was (exhausting),” she admitted. “We had a lot of players with the red faces on the bench, it was tough, we were working hard to cut back into the lead. But if we have a better start then we don’t necessarily have to do that, so we made it a lot more difficult on ourselves. Everybody that subbed into the game tonight gave it their all, it was a fast-paced game so I think that was to be expected a little bit. The physicality alone from that team was enough to make you tired, but we battled and had a lot of players come in and step up.

“It’s tough, too,” she continued, “because just going through that locker room we had a lot of kids that played a lot of minutes tonight that haven’t been on that stage before, so for us to come out and compete with a lot of kids that didn’t have that experience of going against a team as high-caliber as them, and at this stage—I mean, there’s nothing like playing in these games—so credit to our team I thought we had a lot of kids that were ready to come in having no prior tournament experience and really step up.”

Tinkle leaves Spokane having played in more than 100 games, starting each this past season. She averaged more than 26 minutes per game and was a near-80 percent free throw shooter.

The redshirt senior posted numbers of eight points and five rebounds per game, with career highs of 26 points in December, 2014, and 13 rebounds in February of 2015. She made five 3-pointers in that 2014 contest against San Diego.

The cupboards won’t be bare in Spokane next season. Teammate and Montana native Jill Barta has broken numerous program records, and will be one of the athletes attempting to build on the mentality and work ethic Tinkle has established.

“Oh yeah, without a doubt,” Tinkle said of a bright future for the Zags. “Now we’ve got people that know what it’s like. I just told them in the locker room, next time it happens, which it will, I have no doubt that this team is going to be back here, and I’ll be cheering from the stands. Just kind of seizing these opportunities. A couple years ago, we had nothing to lose, and I think everyone knew—for the most part we were a pretty veteran group so we had been there before—so just really taking advantage of the time to extend your season, and you’re playing against the best of the best. So there’s really nothing more you can ask for. They’re in good hands, like I said I don’t have a single doubt that they will be back and hopefully making a little more noise once they get here.”

You’ll likely hear Tinkle making noise as well, cheering on her teammates like nothing ever changed.

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