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BYU women’s basketball team earns best NCAA Tournament seed in program history

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BYU Cougars celebrates after winning a game against Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Marriott Center in Provo.

BYU Cougars celebrates after winning a game against Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

On Selection Sunday, the BYU women’s basketball team made a little more history.

The Cougars earned their best seed ever in the NCAA Tournament – No. 6, surpassing their previous best, No. 7.

BYU is in the Wichita Bracket and will face No. 11 seed Villanova Saturday in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The winner of BYU-Villanova faces either No. 3 Michigan or No. 14 American. 

“We knew that through our hard work during the whole season, we made ourselves get into a good position to have this opportunity,” said coach Jeff Judkins.

“As you get into the tournament, it’s really not where you’re seeded. It’s really the matchup.”

Still, considering that the Cougars (26-3) were ranked No. 15 in last week’s Associated Press poll and they’ve put together their best record in school history, it could be viewed as a disappointment that they didn’t receive an even more favorable seed.

But BYU was bracing for a No. 6 seed after falling to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game last Tuesday. 

“I’m just excited that we’re in a bracket that I think we can do some damage if we play our game and do the things that we need to,” Judkins said.

“It’s exciting. The girls have worked hard to be able to have this opportunity. We’ll be ready to go.”

The Cougars gathered at the Marriott Center Sunday afternoon to watch the Selection Show together on the video board while sitting on couches on the arena floor.

As it turned out, they had to wait almost until the very end of the show before their name was unveiled. 

“Everybody’s really excited for the next part of the season,” said guard Tegan Graham. “Everyone was a little nervous. My hands were sweating a bit, but everyone’s super excited.”

Guard Paisley Harding said the seed “doesn’t really matter, honestly. When it comes down to it, it’s what we do on the day of the game that really matters.

“I still think we have great potential in this tournament, no matter what seed we’re in.”

Villanova (23-8) is a member of the Big East Conference. One of the Wildcats’ wins this season came against UConn, a No. 2 seed.

A commentator on ESPN’s Selection Show tabbed Villanova as a team that could go deep into the tournament. 

What was the Cougars’ reaction to that?

“If I’m being honest, I feel this whole season, I don’t want to say disrespected because I don’t think that’s the right word, but we’ve been forgotten a little bit,” Graham said.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The way we play, the style of play we have, how competitive we are, the way we perform game-in, game-out, we should have a little more hype, but I’d rather be on the team that has that performance than the team that gets all the hype and then doesn’t make it.”

Judkins wasn’t expecting to play a team like Villanova.

“I’d thought we’d be playing Missouri. It was kind of surprising that Villanova was there, but I think it’s fair,” he said.

“We’re going to have to play well. If we’re fortunate enough to win that, then probably Michigan. It will be tough playing them on their home court, but that’s the way it will be. We look forward to it, that’s for sure.”

Judkins said he knows “a little bit about Villanova. They’re a very controlling team that holds the ball and really works it. It will be a big challenge for us that way. We haven’t seen a lot of that. Maybe Portland gave us a little bit of that.”

The Wildcats are led by forward Maddy Siegrist, who averages 25.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. 

Judkins said he’d spend Sunday night and Monday morning watching Villanova games to help prepare his team for the Wildcats.

“They play in Connecticut’s league and I know how (UConn coach) Geno (Auriemma) plays,” Judkins said. “I’ll be able to get a good feel with that, I think.”

Was BYU rewarded with a seed that matched its performance this season?

“I don’t know. It’s pretty hard to see a couple of teams ahead of you that you had a way better record than theirs and you beat the same teams they beat and you beat them worse. (We) were ranked most of the year,” Judkins said.

“We couldn’t have done any more than we did this year. We tried to schedule every tough game. We were hoping to run the table and be able to host the NCAA Tournament here, but that loss (to Gonzaga) really hurt us. I don’t know if we would have gotten it anyway. You see some of these teams that struggled during the year and they get hot and they move them up really high.”

But Judkins takes satisfaction that his team has earned a No. 6 seed, the best in program history.

“It means that we’re getting better. It means that we’re scheduling better and playing better teams. I saw a lot of those teams that got in there and we played them. It’s a really positive thing,” he said.

“I think if we had won the (WCC Tournament) we would have been at least a No. 5, maybe a No. 4, but we didn’t show up in that game and maybe that will give us a spark. No. 6 is a good seed. Last year, we were No. 11. One year that we got to the Sweet 16, we were a No. 11, so that’s a good bracket for us.”