ATHENS, Ga. - When Georgia senior Christi Thomas fouled out of Monday's second-round game against Texas Christian, she knew there was a chance her college career was over.
A first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection in her final season, the 6-foot-5 center from Buford, Ga., could only sit on the bench and be a cheerleader during the final nine minutes as her team tried to hold off a furious rally by the Lady Frogs.
TCU cut a 21-point lead down to eight before Georgia regained control and went on to win 85-71.
"I thought I was going to have a heart attack at the age of 21," said Thomas, who was named honorable mention All-America on Tuesday. "I don't think I cracked a smile until about the 1:20 mark when I knew we were going to win.
"My teammates did a great job of taking care of things at the end."
Thomas and the third-seeded Lady Bulldogs (24-9) will try to keep their season going tonight against No. 2 seed Purdue (29-3) in the West Regional semifinals in Seattle at Bank of America Arena.
"Purdue's a very good team with a great player in Shereka Wright," she said. "Most of what they do on offense goes through her, but they can also shoot the 3-pointer, so we've got our hands full."
In her final trip to the NCAA Tournament, Thomas said she is trying to enjoy every moment. She knows that playing college basketball is a unique, special experience - one she's not quite ready to see come to an end.
"I'm having a great time," she said. "We're in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and I've gotten to visit Philadelphia and Seattle, two places I've never been before.
"You can't ask for any more than that."
At the end of the regular season, Thomas said she was trying not to think too much about the end being near - something she admitted doing during the regular season, which contributed to her up-and-down play.
Instead, she was simply trying to focus on playing and enjoying each game.
It's a strategy that has worked.
In the first round against Liberty, a 78-53 blowout, Thomas only had to play 20 minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds.
On Monday against TCU, a much tougher opponent, Thomas was a dominant force inside with 19 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out.
She should be able to put up some good numbers tonight against the Boilermakers, who are very quick but don't have a lot of size. Purdue doesn't have a player over 6-2 on its roster.
"One of the strong points for us should be our post game," she said. "Because of my height advantage, I should be able to shoot over anyone who's guarding me, even if I'm being double-teamed."