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BYU basketball: Cougs excited for challenge of No. 1 UConn

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By Kyle Goon

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Mar 26 2014 06:01PM
Updated Mar 26, 2014 10:45PM

Provo • Like any college basketball coach who wants to make his or her program great, BYU’s Jeff Judkins has followed Connecticut closely throughout the years. His admiration runs deep.

They execute offense exactly how the schemes are laid out, he said. They play tough and physical defense. They don’t beat themselves with dumb plays.

"And probably the biggest thing is they believe they’re the best," Judkins said. "They don’t believe anyone can beat them."

Taking on No. 1-ranked, undefeated UConn will admittedly be a trying task for BYU, only the third 12 seed to reach the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. But fresh off two big upsets in Los Angeles, the team’s confidence is running at an all-time high.

While Judkins said BYU beating the Huskies, seven-time champions since 2000, would perhaps qualify as "the biggest upset ever," the Cougars seem to have ramped up to its two previous challenges. Just playing the top program in women’s college basketball and one of the profession’s greatest coaches offers BYU some extra motivation.

"It gives me extra fire just knowing that they’re at the top of the country right now, and we want to see where we measure up," sophomore guard Lexi Eaton said. "We’ve already beaten two quality teams that are top 20 in the country. I honestly believe that when we’re playing like we have been and when we’re playing our best, we can compete."

Exposure a plus for recruiting

While BYU may have captured the attention of basketball observers for the week, the program hopes it has captured some other eyes: recruits.

Judkins said one of the biggest bonuses of getting to the Sweet 16 is the exposure. The Cougars have already won two games on ESPN2, and the Cougars will be on the tongues of a lot more women’s basketball fans leading into their match with UConn. Getting on TV and winning big games does a lot for the program’s ability to draw in talent to keep up the success.

"We’ve been real lucky getting the exposure we get here, with BYU TV and other things," he said. "But this is a great opportunity for us to show what BYU’s made. Hopefully these young ladies will be watching and decide to come here."

Texas A&M, DePaul also Lincoln-bound

Should BYU score the biggest upset of the tournament, one of the teams that the Cougars could face next ousted them last time.

DePaul is another Sweet 16 partner headed to Nebraska, by virtue of an upset win over Duke in Durham, N.C. A No. 7 seed, the Doug Bruno-led Blue Demons are the next-lowest seed after BYU’s 12 seed. The Cougars are familiar with DePaul, having lost to them in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2012 in Chicago.

DePaul will be facing Texas A&M in the late game in Lincoln on Saturday. The Aggies were national champions in 2011, and last appeared in the Sweet 16 in 2012.

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