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Jeff Judkins has BYU women’s hoops team rocketing up

At 18-1 and ranked No. 16, BYU women basketball team is posturing for high NCAA seeding — and respect

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BYU women’s basketball coach Jeff Judkins raises a fist during the Cougars’ win over Arizona State Nov. 17, 2021 in Provo.

BYU women’s basketball coach Jeff Judkins raises a fist during the Cougars’ victory over Arizona State Nov. 17, 2021, at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.

Rebeca Fuentes, BYU Photo

This article was first published in the Cougar Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

Heading into one of the most important road trips of the season, Jeff Judkins and BYU’s No. 16 women’s basketball team stands at 18-1, 8-0 in league play, and is approaching legendary status for the program. Senior Paisley Harding earned West Coast Conference Player of the Week honors on Monday after she posted her second 30-point game this season during BYU’s 99-58 victory over San Francisco on Saturday, tying her career high with five 3s against the Dons. She averaged 19.0 ppg over three games last week. The women play Portland and Gonzaga on the road this week. Harding is just one of many key tools at Judkins’ disposal this season.

Cougar Insiders projection

Here’s the question of the week: How far can the 18-1 team Jeff Judkins has assembled go in the WCC and NCAA tournaments in the coming months?

Jay Drew: No question, the BYU women’s basketball team was handed a bad deal when the NCAA’s early reveal show aired last week and the No. 16-ranked Cougars (18-1) were left out of the top 16. A place in the top 16 — a top-four seed — is needed for women’s basketball teams wishing to host first-and second-round NCAA Tournament games.

With a No. 10 spot in the NET rankings, BYU was seemingly closing in on the chance to host. Now the Cougars probably have to win out, and get a little bit of help, to get one of those coveted top 16 spots when the final bids and seedings are announced on Selection Sunday. How far can they go?

Before last week, the answer was probably, “pretty far.” Jeff Judkins’ team has all the elements to make a nice run: outstanding guards and scorers in Paisley Harding and Shaylee Gonzales, top-notch rebounders and inside payers in Tegan Graham and Lauren Gustin, and a rim protector off the bench in Sara Hamson.

Now, who knows? Before Thursday’s reveal, the Cougs were a No. 3 seed in ESPN analyst Charlie Creme’s bracketology. After the reveal, they were dropped to a No. 5 seed, and Creme had them playing at Oregon in a regional. There will be two more reveals — Feb. 10 and Feb. 28 — before Selection Sunday in March. Keep your fingers crossed, Cougar fans. And hope that the NCAA selection committee comes to its senses.

Dick Harmon: This women’s team has all the elements to make a deep run — a shot-blocking rim defender in Sara Hamson, an elite point guard in Shaylee Gonzales, a tremendous athlete as a wing scorer in Harding and rugged, tough rebounders in Lauren Gustin and Tegan Graham.

Credit goes to Jeff Judkins and the job he’s done recruiting, developing and creating the chemistry of this team. It is a squad that plays smart, intelligent playmaking ball and if they get on a late-season run, I’m confident they will be rewarded for the effort by the time Selection Sunday comes around. This is looking like a women’s team for the ages for sure.

Cougar tales

BYU men’s basketball team hit a wall last week during a road trip to Santa Clara and Pacific. For the first time in head coach Mark Pope’s career at BYU he experienced back-to-back losses in league play. The reasons were similar: turnovers, poor shooting and rebounding, and a lack of defense in key stretches. The rebounding and defense issues were troubling for Pope because that’s what his squad has hung its hat on this season. Here are Jeff Call’s reports on the first loss at Santa Clara in the final seconds, and the horrible loss to a very bad Pacific team— both road games.

There is no time to mope around about these critical losses with San Francisco coming to town on Thursday and Gonzaga at home on Saturday.

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Comments from Deseret News readers

Coach Pope was quoted as saying the two road losses this past week were on him. IMO, not really. Definitely he was protecting his players from criticism and verbal abuse ... and it makes sense that some of the problem may have been in coach calling plays and in not motivating properly as was stated. However, the coach did not play a single second and much of the problem was with execution or lack thereof. The coach can’t miss shots, cause fouls, or create turnovers. Certainly Coach Pope realizes this but isn’t going to make his players the subject of fanbase criticism.

— CougarSenior

I think this team plays with a ton of heart, especially Barcello. I really don’t think effort is the problem. Trarore and George and Atiki have all stepped up and have a lot of potential, but the talent is just not there right now. Look at Gonzaga. There are at least 4 guys who will be playing in the NBA from their current team. I honestly don’t see anyone on the current BYU roster that fits that bill (Barcello, who is their best player, has the best chance at the NBA, but I think his size will be his liability). I can see why Pope loves his players, because they do play hard and never give up and will win most of their games, but they just don’t have the talent yet to take it to the next level. Maybe the fertile fields of the BIG12 will improve their recruiting and the young guys on the team will continue to get better. I’m hopeful.

— Idablu

Up next

Feb. 3-4 | TBA | Swimming and diving | Air Force Invitational | @Colorado Springs, Colorado

Feb. 3 | 6 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. Portland | @Portland

Feb. 3 | 8 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. San Francisco | @Provo

Feb. 5 | 8 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. Gonzaga | @Provo

Feb. 5 | 2 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. Gonzaga | @Spokane