No. 8 seeded Syracuse lost 83-47 to No. 1 UConn on Tuesday, a defeat that marked the end of guard Tiana Mangakahia's college basketball career. But even that defeat was a victory for Mangakahia, a 25-year-old who survived breast cancer and a double mastectomy to return to her team and the NCAA tournament.
Mangakahia was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in June 2019. She had chemotherapy to treat it, but also had a double mastectomy in Nov. 2019. She was declared cancer-free, but still had a long way to go before she could return.
But she did return. On Nov. 29, 2020, Mangakahia played her first game in 615 days, a 50-39 win over Stony Brook.
Anyone would have understood if Mangakahia took more time to get back into basketball after major surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy, or if she wasn't her best when she got back on the court. Neither happened. Mangakahia didn't just return, she flourished. She averaged more than 11 points and an NCAA-best 7.5 assists through 20 games this season. She's also been named a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the country’s top point guard.
Her play isn't at the level it used to be, and Mangakahia knows that. In her emotional postgame news conference on Tuesday, she reflected on that, but also said she's proud of herself for being where she is after all she's gone through.
"I'm proud of myself. It was really difficult to come back, and I just don't feel like I was the same, but I would just say that I'm proud of myself... There's worse things people go through in their lives, and me getting through it and coming out on top, it's just a blessing to be able to play this sport."
Mangakahia also spoke about her future. She hopes to start her own foundation to help people who can't afford cancer treatment.
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