Las Vegas • Having lost two of its last three games, the BYU women's basketball team enters the West Coast Conference Tournament which it won last year with not as much momentum as it would like.
But the Cougars, surprisingly, roll into postseason play with a good amount of confidence, despite their late-season swoon. And coach Jeff Judkins says they shouldn't be counted out when they begin defense of their crown on Friday at Orleans Arena.
BYU, which slid from the second seed to the fourth seed when it lost 68-55 at Loyola Marymount last week, will get a rematch with the fifth-seeded Lions at 1 p.m. MT Friday. Loyola Marymount defeated San Francisco 75-53 on Thursday, while BYU had a bye into the quarterfinals.
The game will air live on BYUtv.
The Cougars (11-5 in league play) tied for third place with Saint Mary's but BYU got the lower seed because it was swept by regular-season champion Gonzaga and the Gaels split with the Zags.
"Gonzaga right now is the best team," Judkins said. "They've played the best this year. But we can get them. We played them close both times. We just have to play our game and execute and do what we do best."
What the Cougars do best is play tenacious defense something that senior point guard Haley Steed says they got away from the past few games of the regular season.
The Cougars bounced back from the devastating loss at LMU to beat Portland 73-63 on the road Saturday, and Steed believes the trip provided a "bonding experience" and taught the women about what it will take to win games in March.
"Yeah, we have struggled the last couple of weeks," she said. "It starts on the defensive end where we have dropped our intensity, no doubt. I think we have been able to identify that now, and realize and recognize that is kind of where our problem lies."
If the Cougars win Friday, they have to play a rested Gonzaga team on Saturday in the semifinals.
Depth could be an issue for BYU because freshman point guard Kylie Maeda, Steed's backup, tore an ACL in the loss at LMU and is out for the rest of the year. Steed, who has overcome three ACL injuries herself, played 40 minutes against Portland and could be asked to do it again.
Judkins said he might have to play more zone than usual to keep Steed out of foul trouble.
"I think she knows what it takes," he said. "I think she will get the team ready, get them relaxed. One thing about Haley over her career: She has always stepped up to big challenges, big games. The tournament is a challenge."
P At Orleans Arena (Las Vegas)
No. 4 BYU vs. No. 5 Loyola Marymount
Friday, 1 p.m.
TV • BYUtv