LAS VEGAS — The BYU women’s basketball team entered this week’s West Coast Conference tournament having lost four of their previous five games.
But last Thursday’s 65-64 quarterfinals win over Saint Mary’s did wonders for the Cougars.
“It was big-time. It seems like every time we played Saint Mary’s, they got the lucky bounces, they got the lucky shots,” said guard Lexi Eaton. “It went our way (Thursday) night.”
Eaton scored a game-high 30 points against the Gaels, including the game-winning shot with two seconds remaining.
No. 5 seed BYU will try to build on that momentum Monday (1 p.m., MST, BYUtv) when it takes on top-seeded Gonzaga at Orleans Arena in the tournament semifinals.
The Cougars know in order to get into the NCAA tournament, they will have to capture the WCC tournament title first.
“We know these are must-wins for us,” Eaton said. “That’s how you should play anyway. We’re always wanting to win the championship. We’re ready to come out, compete and leave it all out there.”
What is it going to take to knock off the Zags, who swept the season series?
“They’re going to pound it inside and try to beat us with their height,” said coach Jeff Judkins. “Lexi has to have a better game. I don’t know if she needs to play as well as she did (Thursday) night, but she needs to play better than she did in Provo, where she had four points. We need to do a good job of changing defenses and get them out of sync.”
Gonzaga defeated BYU, 78-62, in Spokane on Dec. 27, then defeated the Cougars in Provo on Feb. 28, 73-66.
“We just need to play our game — tough and physical,” said Cougar guard Cassie Broadhead. “We know we can beat them if we play our game.”
The Zags broke open a close game in the second half in the quarterfinals against Loyola Marymount by implementing a press. Gonzaga ended up beating the Lions, 70-50.
“We’re going to have to spread that press out and be ready for it and break it,” Judkins. “That’s something we’re going to have to work on.”
“We can’t get out of rhythm or get flustered,” Eaton said. “That’s what they did with their press. They turned up their intensity and pressure and we can’t get rattled. We’ve got to shorten their runs.”
Because BYU hasn’t played since Thursday, Judkins and his coaching staff are using the time to prepare for Gonzaga.
“If you said to me what is the best chance of us winning the game, it’s giving us two days to prepare for them and focus on it and rest our bodies,” Judkins said. “A couple of years ago when we had as much depth as they have, I would have just as soon play back-to-back and use my depth. This year, with our team, they’re deeper. To have more rest and to be able to prepare for them is a better opportunity for us.”
Gonzaga is led by star Sunny Greinacher, who averages 13.7 points per game. The Zags boast a balanced attack, which also features Keani Albanez (12.8 ppg), Elle Tinkle (12.2 ppg) and Shelby Cheslek (7.3 ppg).
Judkins, who saw his team fall on tough luck at the end of the regular season, is hoping that his team can continue to turn their fortunes around, and keep winning, in Las Vegas.
“We finally won a game that we made the play instead of some other team,” Judkins said. “The last three weeks we lost to Saint Mary’s at the buzzer, then at Pacific, it was a two-point game and they hit a 3-pointer to win the game. At San Diego, we’re ahead and made some bad plays. Against Gonzaga at home, we cut it down to two and didn’t make the plays we needed to make. (Against Saint Mary’s) that was a real confidence-builder. We were able to make plays at the end of the game. I think that will help us.”