LAS VEGAS — Before the season tipped off, the BYU women's basketball team set a goal to reach the NCAA Tournament.
As the West Coast Conference tourney gets set to tip off Thursday, the Cougars know they are in a position where they must win three games at Orleans Arena to make that happen.
“We need to win the (WCC) tournament," said coach Jeff Judkins, "and hopefully we’re playing our best basketball."
As part of that, Judkins is looking for a strong performance from star guard Cassie Devashrayee.
“We’ve just got to come in and Cassie’s probably got to play (her best) for us to win. Cassie’s going to help a lot,” Judkins said. “To win the conference tournament, you’ve got to have a go-to kid that you can run stuff (through) and do things for her to create baskets for your team. I think we have that.”
Devashrayee, who averages 19.3 points per game, is eager to help her team advance.
“We know that’s what we have to do to get in (the NCAA Tournament). That’s our goal,” Devashrayee said. “We want to go to the NCAA Tournament and we have to win these three games if we want to. It’s been a goal of ours and it’s been on our minds. We have to play hard and we have to play well to reach that goal.”
In the quarterfinals Thursday (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv), the No. 3-seeded Cougars face No. 6 San Diego, a team that swept BYU during the regular season.
The Toreros beat the Cougars in San Diego, 70-69, on Jan. 20, and won in Provo on Feb. 17, 66-60.
“They’ve played really well and we’ve missed a lot of shots. We’ve gotten down on them,” Judkins said. “We’ve been down in the first quarter and we’ve tried to play catch up. We’ve got to get ahead of them. They’re a very good offensive rebounding team.”
San Diego is led by forward Maya Hood, who averages 11.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
“The Hood girl is the real deal. She’s a very good rebounder and defender,” Judkins said. “She really sets the tone for her team. We’ve got to do a lot better job of not letting her get going. If she gets going, their whole team does. They are physical. Cassie knows that because she gets double-teamed a lot.”
“They beat us twice and I think they’re going into this game very confident. But I’m really excited. I feel like we haven’t played our best game against them,” Devashrayee said. “We haven’t shot the ball well. We know we can beat them. We know we can. We’re just focusing on the things we didn’t do — we didn’t box out the last two games against them and we didn’t hit shots. We’re confident if we do those two things, we have a good chance to beat them.”
Why have the Toreros been such a tough matchup for BYU?
“Maya Hood is a great rebounder. It’s a tough matchup with how well they rebound on the offensive glass. We’ve struggled with that all year, rebounding. That’s hard for us to match up with that,” Devashrayee said. “But we’ve been focusing this week on boxing out and rebounding. If we do that, we take away a large portion of their offensive game.
"We know we can guard them and we know we can score on them, especially if we rebound. They’re a very physical team. They rely on that. ... We’ve played them twice and most of us are used to it. It’s going to be a battle; it’s going to be a dogfight.”
BYU is coming off a 62-37 loss at No. 1 seed Gonzaga last Saturday.
“The score of the Gonzaga (game) wasn’t as bad as that,” Judkins said. “We couldn’t score and we missed a lot of shots. But defensively, we played very, very well. I was happy with that. I know we’ll shoot better. … This team, in moments, is one of the best teams in the league. Then there’s moments of, where are we? We’ve got to hope we’re not in that and in the other one.”
The Cougars need to go into the tournament with confidence, Devashrayee said.
“With how rocky of a season that it’s been with ups and downs, very high at some points and very low at some points, going in with the mentality that we can win and if we play together as a team with confidence, we can beat anybody.”
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BYU women on the air
BYU (16-13, 11-7)
vs. San Diego (15-14, 8-10)
Thursday, 7 p.m. MST Orleans Arena
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM