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BYU women's basketball: Judkins confident his team can rise above WCC competition

PROVO — It's been tough to know what to expect from the BYU women's basketball team during its early non-conference schedule. Some days the Cougars have looked on point in most facets, while other games see coach Jeff Judkins' team all out of sorts and looking incapable of beating just about anyone.

But fortunately for the Cougars, things seem to be trending to the positive tendencies, as they prepare for West Coast Conference play, starting Thursday night with a game at Portland.

“I think we have a chance of winning our league,” Judkins said confidently after his team's latest win, a 75-54 romp over Montana State. “I think we’re as good as any team in our league and I’ve seen a lot of them because they’ve played some of the same teams as us. We’re as good as any of them.”

Judkins readily recognizes it hasn't all been smooth-sailing for his team, however. A tough 76-69 loss at home to Utah State and a 70-45 loss at Cal on December 16 still sting, although BYU players have shown a good ability to bounce back, evidenced by the win over Montana State and a 77-68 win over Utah right after taking the loss to the Aggies.

“If we come out with the same intensity, like we did against Utah and like we did (against Montana State), then we can cause some real problems,” Judkins said.

The preseason didn't offer a lot of clarity as to who the top teams in conference will be, although Judkins believes the same top teams will likely be there again this season.

“Saint Mary’s — them and Gonzaga are probably the two best teams in our league, so playing them on the road early is going to be tough,” Judkins said. “But I think we can get them if we came out and do things we need to.”

The Cougars will be tested by the Gaels early on December 30, for their second WCC game right after the matchup against the Pilots. They'll then take on Saint Mary's at home on January 25 and won't play Gonzaga until February 3.

Both Gonzaga and Saint Mary's accrued 7-4 marks in the preseason, as the Cougars struggled to a 5-6 start, although Judkins believes about three of those games could have gone either way. The Cougars lost four straight in Decembers, before finishing out winning two of their final three non-conference games.

Leading the way for the Cougars is Cassie Devashrayee, who averages 20.1 points per game and four assists. Brenna Chase averages 12.1 with Utah transfer Malia Nawahine chipping in 9.6 per game.

The team has been helped considerably by the presence of 6-foot-7 freshman Sara Hamson, who is now playing fulltime after finishing up playing with the volleyball team.

The Cougars wrap of WCC play at Gonzaga on Feb. 24 before turning to the conference tournament and a potential berth in the NCAA or NIT tournaments.