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BYU women's basketball: Cougars to deal with Broncos' 'crazy' zone in WCC semifinals

Brigham Young Cougars forward Kalani Purcell (32) drives on Pepperdine Waves forward Krista Pettepier (24) during the WCC Tournment in Las Vegas Friday, March 4, 2016.
Brigham Young Cougars forward Kalani Purcell (32) drives on Pepperdine Waves forward Krista Pettepier (24) during the WCC Tournment in Las Vegas Friday, March 4, 2016.
Jeffrey D. Allred,

LAS VEGAS — Most seasons, the road to the West Coast Conference women’s regular-season and tournament championships go through Gonzaga.

But this is not most seasons.

The Cougars captured their first WCC regular-season title and are eyeing their second consecutive WCC tournament crown.

Going into Monday’s semifinals, the Zags, who entered the tournament as a No. 5 seed, are nowhere to be found. They lost Thursday in the quarterfinals to No. 4 Santa Clara.

Top-seed BYU will take on the Broncos Monday (1 p.m., MST, BYUtv) in a semifinal contest at Orleans Arena.

“It’s been a different season as far as the standings go,” said Cougar guard Lexi Rydalch, the WCC Player of the Year. “But there are a lot of tough teams still left in it that maybe don’t have the program history like Gonzaga. But they’re tough. They know how to get hot. We have to bring it every single game.”

One of those tough teams is Santa Clara. BYU swept the regular-season series, but both games were close. The Cougars beat the Broncos in Santa Clara 68-63. BYU won in Provo 70-63.

“They have a really tough, crazy zone. They’re always extending out far and pressuring,” Rydalch said. “We will have to be able to handle their pressure and aggression. We have to stay calm and collected and find gaps in the zone.”

Santa Clara has a balanced offensive attack. Forward Lori Parkinson leads the team in scoring, averaging 11 points, while forwards Mari Bertholdt and Morgan McGwire average 10.8 and 10.5, respectively.

In BYU’s 72-59 quarterfinal win over Pepperdine Friday, Rydalch scored 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and had five steals. Kalani Purcell had 19 points, 11 boards and eight assists. Makenzi Pulsipher scored eight points but shot just 2 of 11 from the field.

“Santa Clara’s defense is a swarming zone and (Purcell and Pulsipher) are going to have to play very good,” said coach Jeff Judkins. “Makenzi’s going to have to make shots and Kalani is going to have to pass in that zone. Hopefully we can do what we did the last two times against them.”

“I’m really excited to play a physical team,” Purcell said. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a very physical person on the floor. I think we match up pretty well.”

Rydalch knows that there are times when she needs to exert her influence in the game, like she did against Pepperdine.

“I need to be that kind of leader to be able to distribute when the team needs it and then when it comes to taking over the game, I need to be that person and the team expects me to do that,” Rydalch said. “I think that’s really important, especially during tournament time.”

In Monday’s other semifinal, No. 2 Saint Mary’s takes on No. 6 San Francisco.

The winners of the two semifinal games meet in the WCC tournament championship game Monday (2 p.m., MST, ESPNU).

EMAIL: jeffc@deseretnews.com