BYU women’s basketball’s success thus far in the 2021-22 season — an 18-1 record and a No. 16 national ranking, tied for best in school history — has raised expectations.

The Cougars have the chance to raise the bar again this weekend, as they go on the road to face their two biggest challengers in the West Coast Conference and try to make an even better impression with the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

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BYU’s schedule this weekend

BYU at Portland

BYU at Gonzaga

About Portland: The Pilots currently sit third in the WCC standings with a 3-2 league record — their two losses both came against Gonzaga, by an average of 10 points — and are 13-4 overall. 

BYU was originally scheduled to host Portland on Jan. 1, but that game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues. 

Portland is also the WCC’s third-highest ranked team in the NCAA’s NET rankings, at No. 63. BYU comes into the matchup No. 12 in the NET rankings.

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About Gonzaga: Both BYU (8-0) and Gonzaga (7-0) are undefeated in WCC play right now, and the winner of this game will take the upper hand in the league’s regular-season race. 

The Zags are currently No. 28 in the NET rankings, and are on a six-game winning streak. They will host Pacific on Thursday before the BYU matchup. 

This will be the first of two regular-season games between the schools — the Cougars host Gonzaga on Feb. 19. It’s been a competitive series — over the past three seasons, the Cougars and Zags have split eight matchups. Over the past five years, the Bulldogs own a 7-5 series edge.

What’s at stake for BYU

A sweep this weekend would keep the Cougars in control of the WCC regular-season championship race. 

There’s even more at stake for BYU, though.

While the Cougars have cruised thus far in conference play — they’ve won their eight league games by an average of 28.2 points — and own a handful of solid nonconference wins, it’s clear they have more to do to improve their postseason seeding.

Last week, the NCAA selection committee released its first of three top 16 rankings, which give an insight to which teams are in line to earn a top 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and host first- and second-round games. Despite its record and then-top 10 NET ranking, BYU was not included in the NCAA’s initial top 16 rankings.

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For the Cougars to have any chance of a top 4 seed, they’ll likely need to win out. Gonzaga and Portland represent the most impressive wins the Cougars can pick up in WCC play, particularly the Zags, an NCAA tournament regular in recent seasons.

Prior to NCAA’s first top 16 rankings coming out, ESPN had BYU as a No. 3 seed in its bracketology. Now, the Cougars are a No. 5 in the latest ESPN bracketology, with a potential second-round matchup on the road at Oregon.

The NCAA will release top 16 rankings two other times this season — on Feb. 10 and Feb. 28 — before the NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed on Selection Sunday, March 13.