All year long, the BYU women’s basketball team had a target squarely on its back.
But the No. 19 Cougars didn’t let that target hamper them at all. If anything, it bolstered them.
With an 82-52 pounding of Pacific Saturday afternoon in Stockton, BYU, the preseason favorites to win the West Coast Conference championship, made good on that prediction and captured the outright regular-season crown.
The Cougars (25-2, 15-1) capped the regular season in resounding fashion, just like they have pretty much all season long.
“What I learned a long time ago is that you don’t hide from pressure — you attack it,” said coach Jeff Judkins. “So when the season started, we had our goals and when we got picked first, I told them they have a bullseye on their back.
“You can look at it in one of two ways — either relish it and take advantage of it and win a championship, or let it slip through your fingers. They’re competitors. I’m not one to shy away from pressure and my team’s not that way either.”
Now No. 1 seed BYU enters this week’s WCC Tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. As the WCC’s top seed, the Cougars won’t have to play until the semifinals on Monday, March 7.
BYU could face an intriguing rematch in the semifinals with No. 4 Portland, the only WCC team that beat the Cougars in the regular season.
Besides that, BYU will not be competing just to win a WCC Tournament title, as important as that is. It will be playing for NCAA Tournament seeding. The Cougars are currently projected as a No. 5 seed. If they can receive a No. 4 seed or better, they could have an opportunity to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
“This is a special team; you’ve heard me say this all year. They work hard and do all the little things. They want to win. This is big for our program to be able to win this conference. Gonzaga has won it for so many years. It’s good for us to do it.” — BYU coach Jeff Judkins
That would be a well-deserved reward, since BYU played championship-quality basketball all season long. All of their conference wins were by double digits.
After losing at Portland on Feb. 3, the Cougars bounced back to beat Gonzaga at The Kennel by rallying from a double-digit deficit.
Yes, among the Cougars’ accomplishments this season — they swept the Zags.
“I knew that this team had a chance to be one of the best we’ve had at BYU,” Judkins said. “A lot of players sacrificed to get here and now they have chance to do something special. We have a lot more work to do but I couldn’t be more proud of the hard work they’ve put in this year.”
Against Pacific, Shaylee Gonzales was one of four Cougars to score in double figures. Gonzales scored 18, Paisley Harding added 14, Tegan Graham finished with 12 and Lauren Gustin recorded her 14th double-double of the season by scoring 11 points and pulling down 13 rebounds.
The Cougars are talented, they’ve got depth, they’re experienced, and they’re motivated.
“This is a special team; you’ve heard me say this all year. They work hard and do all the little things,” Judkins said. “They want to win. This is big for our program to be able to win this conference. Gonzaga has won it for so many years. It’s good for us to do it.”
Next up for the Cougars? Winning the WCC Tournament championship. Then it will be on to the NCAA Tournament.