PROVO — About two months ago the BYU women's basketball team began West Coast Conference play with a bit of thud, losing on the road to San Diego 78-65.
On Thursday, a full 15 games after that tough loss, the Cougars wrapped up their first ever West Coast Conference regular season championship with a solid 68-60 win over those same Toreros. It was the last regular season game for the Cougars at the Marriott Center and a fitting end for the team's prominent senior duo of Lexi Eaton Rydalch and Kylie Maeda.
“It worked out perfectly to end on our home court, to win it all. It couldn’t be more special,” Rydalch said.
As for Rydalch, she went out playing what has become a fairly typical effort, scoring a game-high 33 points while coming alive in the second half. The senior made things happen while driving strong to the hoop or squaring up behind the arc for several devastating 3-pointers.
Following the game Rydalch was honored for her exemplary career, accompanied by both her parents and her husband, Trevor Rydalch.
“What a great career,” said BYU coach Jeff Judkins when asked to reflect on what Rydalch has meant to his team. “She’s the second-leading scorer in BYU history, the leading scorer in (WCC history) and she’s won a lot of games. A lot of big games and you can’t replace that, no matter what.”
As for Maeda, who was also honored after the game, she was typically understated when just glancing at the stat sheet on Thursday, but proved pivotal in Thursday's win, much like she has all season long.
“Tonight you saw a typical game from (Kylie),” Judkins said. “She defended her chops off. She took care of the ball, hit shots when she (had) them and she got her team into the offense. She got on her team, communicated with her team — that’s what she’s meant for us.”
Maeda finished five points and four assists on the night.
Kalani Purcell again filled up the stat sheet for the Cougars, scoring 13 points while pulling down 12 rebounds and dishing out seven assists.
San Diego was led by Maya Hood, Malina Hood and Katherine Hamilton, who each scored a team-high 12 points.
The Toreros battled hard throughout until a fourth quarter surge by the Cougars that all but put the game on ice. As usual, it was Rydalch leading the surge, topping off her effort by scoring nine of her team's final 11 points.
“This wasn’t the best game tonight, but it was a game we needed,” Judkins said. “It was a tough, physical game tonight.”
BYU's loss to the Toreros back on Dec. 23 was also best defined as a tough and physical game. The difference this time, according to Judkins, was a team that learned how good it could become following that loss.
“We got pounded pretty good by San Diego and I remember walking out of there, telling my team that, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this conference,’” Judkins said. “They really took it to heart tonight. They really did all season.”
As mentioned, the Cougars clinched the WCC regular-season championship with the win, something Judkins and his players won't soon forget.
“To see these young ladies know what they’ve sacrificed for this is something a coach will always remember,” Judkins said. “I told them that whenever they walk into this building they’ll remember it — they’ll remember what they did this season and what they’ve shared together.”