Going into the West Coast Conference tournament, the No. 15 BYU women’s basketball team was shooting for a chance to earn a top-16 seed in the NCAA Tournament and host the first two rounds.

But after a 71-59 loss to Gonzaga in the championship game last Tuesday, it appears the Cougars have missed out on that opportunity.

According to ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme, BYU (26-3), the WCC regular-season champion, is projected as a No. 5 seed. 

The Cougars are looking forward to a fresh start in the Big Dance.

“I’m excited to get going,” said coach Jeff Judkins. “Hopefully we’ll be able to bounce back and do well in the NCAA Tournament.”

BYU will find out its seed and destination on Selection Sunday (6 p.m. MST, ESPN). 

This marks the first women’s tournament to feature 68 teams. First Four games will be held March 16-17. First- and second-round games will be played March 18-21 at the top-16 seeds.

Last season, the Cougars were a No. 11 seed and beat No. 6 Rutgers in the first round before falling to No. 3 Arizona, which advanced to the national championship game, where the Wildcats lost to Stanford. 

BYU will have had a long layoff between the loss to the Zags and its first NCAA Tournament game on March 19. 

“We’ll start next Monday when we know who we’re playing to start preparing,” Judkins said. “Last year we had a lot of time to prepare for Rutgers, and it really helped my team. We’ll take advantage of that.” 

Judkins added that his team will take a lot from the setback in the WCC Tournament championship game.

“We’re going to learn from this,” he said. “We’ve been to the NCAA Tournament many times. We’ve been very, very successful in our first game. This team will get prepared for it.”

Last Monday before tipping off in the WCC Tournament, BYU achieved its highest ranking ever at No. 15. 

“Hopefully it will get us some good recruits. To win you have to have good players. We get noticed a lot more the last few years of going to the NCAA Tournament and doing well. People know who we are,” Judkins said of the historic ranking.

“You have to keep knocking on the door. Eventually, that door is going to open and you’re going to be ready for it. These seniors came back for this moment. They came back to win a conference championship and win the tournament and go to the NCAAs and really make some noise.”

Some feel that BYU has been underrated during the season, but that has only fueled the Cougars.  

“I feel like we prove it day-in and day-out during practices and games. We fight and give it our all,” said guard Shaylee Gonzales.

“Sometimes rankings don’t matter to us because we know we’re going to go into the NCAA Tournament and do some damage. … We’re really excited for that and to make it to the Final Four.”

Before the loss to Gonzaga, Judkins was asked why his team hasn’t received more respect nationally. 

“I don’t know what more this team could have done. We scheduled hard. We scheduled six Power Five (opponents). We lost to one in overtime and they shot 32 fouls shots and we shot 12. We lost in overtime by three,” he said.

“Nobody wants to play our league. Nobody wants to play Portland. They don’t want to play us or Gonzaga. San Francisco is getting in that realm and nobody wants to play them either. If our league’s so crappy, then why don’t you want to play us? … For us, we look at it and say, we’ve done what you’ve asked us to do. What more can we do as a mid-major? ... But it doesn’t make a difference. We don’t care if we’re (seeded) 11th or sixth or second or third. We don’t care.”