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BYU women’s basketball passing, stealing its way to a high tourney seed as league play wraps up

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The good thing about this team, we can play a lot of different ways defensively. – Jeff Judkins

PROVO — With two weeks left in the regular season, Jeff Judkins again has his BYU women’s basketball team in prime position to secure a top-end seed in next month's West Coast Conference tournament.

This comes after the Cougars (16-9 overall, 10-4 WCC) swept a homestand last weekend, beating Pepperdine 88-49 on Thursday and besting San Francisco 73-61 two days later.

"We have a goal in mind, and that's to win (every game) until we get to the conference tournament so that we can put ourselves in a better position," BYU senior guard Makenzi Pulsipher said.

In three of the previous five WCC tournaments BYU has played in since joining the league, the Cougars have been a two seed or higher. Last year, BYU was the top seed for the first time.

The victories put BYU three games ahead of San Francisco and Santa Clara in the WCC standings, with four games to play. The Cougars are tied with Saint Mary’s at 10-4 for second place in league play, while Gonzaga leads the conference with a 12-2 record.

"I'm one of those coaches that I don't hide it. I told them, we win today and it puts us in a good spot where we have a chance to win the conference," Judkins said. "We have a chance to be in the top three for the tournament. I'm happy for them. This was a big game for us, and we needed to take care of business."

BYU’s offense came together to dominate the Waves and Dons, though the Cougars did it differently in the two games.

Against Pepperdine, BYU hit 12 3-pointers and had a season-high 31 assists on 35 made shots. Against the Dons, the Cougars shot 65 percent through three quarters (and 57.1 percent overall) while utilizing a strong inside-out game against an undersized San Francisco team.

"We had a lot of mid-range and in-the-paint baskets," BYU junior guard Cassie Broadhead said after the win over San Francisco. "Those are high percentage shots. That was the difference from the other game. We brought it into the paint."

BYU also showed off an attacking defense. Against San Francisco, the Cougars had 12 steals, including nine in the first half. Pulsipher led the way with five. That led to the Cougars owning a 10-0 edge in fast-break points vs. the Dons.

BYU also had seven blocked shots against San Francisco.

“Makenzi, Kalani (Purcell) and Cassie were aggressive on the wing. We tried to push them out farther and by doing that, we got some easy baskets,” Judkins said. "The good thing about this team, we can play a lot of different ways defensively."

The Cougars also shut down the Waves' offense, holding Pepperdine to 29.4 percent shooting from the field, including 17.1 percent (6 of 35) through three quarters. San Francisco shot 42.1 percent against the Cougars.

BYU’s top players again led the way in the homestand. Broadhead averaged 17.5 points, 7.5 assists and seven rebounds in the two wins, while Purcell (14.5 points, eight rebounds, 5.5 assists per game) and Pulsipher (13 points, four steals per game) also put up strong numbers.

The Cougars got big games from bench players like senior forward Micaelee Orton in both contests (16 total points and six rebounds) and freshman guard Brenna Chase on Thursday (season-high tying 11 points and four assists).

The Cougars were particularly dominant down low, outscoring the Waves 38-6 in the paint while holding a 36-18 edge in the paint against the Dons.

"We have size on them and we have speed. One thing Orton did really well was she took advantage of her speed, whether she caught it on the elbow or on the block. And Kalani did a great job of cutting, creating those backcuts and those tight curls so we're not stagnant," Broadhead said.

The victory over the Dons gives BYU momentum and some revenge, as the Dons beat the Cougars earlier this year in California when a fourth-quarter dry spell cost them. San Francisco also upset BYU in the championship game of the WCC tournament last year.

“We needed this game for a couple reasons. One, we hadn't beat them since we lost in the conference tournament (last year) and it hurts. And No. 2, we know we're probably going to see them again this conference tournament," Pulsipher said.

BYU has now won three straight since falling in overtime to Loyola Marymount and losing by 35 at league-leading Gonzaga nearly two weeks ago. The Cougars have also won seven of their past nine games.

BYU will have its chances to move up in the standings the next two weeks. The Cougars play at the Gaels on Saturday — BYU beat Saint Mary's in Provo earlier this season — and host the Zags in the regular-season finale, on March 25.

Up first, though, is a Thursday night matchup at San Diego. The Cougars beat the Toreros 81-63 on Jan. 14 at the Marriott Center.

"Hopefully we're playing our best ball right now. We need to," Judkins said. "We've just got to take care of our team and hope things will work out for us."