Provo • The way BYU women’s basketball star Cassie Broadhead-Devashrayee sees it, the Cougars getting picked to finish third in the West Coast Conference this season is a good thing.

“It is going to fuel our fire,” said the guard, who married Westminster College guard Travis Devashrayee last May. “We believe we are better than that. Hopefully we can use it as motivation.”

Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are picked to finish ahead of the Cougars, who open their season Friday night at home against Southern Utah. BYU placed second last year and posted its eighth straight season of 20 wins or more under coach Jeff Judkins, who is entering his 17th season.

Season opener

Southern Utah at BYU

When • Friday, 7 p.m.

“This team is probably the most balanced team I have had in a long time,” Judkins said. “We are deep in every position, but we don’t have a super scorer, except for maybe Cassie, and she doesn’t look to score herself a lot. It should be a fun year.”

Having missed an NCAA Tournament berth last season for the first time since 2013, returning to the Big Dance is BYU’s top goal in 2017-18.

“Last year was a disappointment for us,” Broadhead-Devashrayee said. “We didn’t have a terrible season, but it didn’t live up to our expectations and what we have done for the past few years, so we really want to win our conference and win games in the NCAA Tournament and make a splash.”

That will be difficult, because the Cougars return just two starters, WCC Player of the Year Broadhead-Devashrayee and junior forward Jasmine Moody.

Senior forward Amanda Wayment and sophomores Brenna Chase and Shalae Salmon all saw plenty of time off the bench and could move into starting roles.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Brigham Young Cougars head coach Jeff Judkins reacts to a call by the official's, in Basketball action, Brigham Young Cougars vs. the Utah Utes, Saturday, December 10, 2016.

The program got a boost last spring when former Springville High star Malia Nawahine, a graduate transfer from Utah with one year of eligibility remaining, announced she would finish her career at BYU. Nawahine started in 33 games for Utah in 2015-16 and averaged 9.5 points per game. She played in just one game last year, due to injury.

“We needed leadership,” Judkins said. “We lost Kalani [Purcell] and Makenzi [Pulsipher], great leaders. So we needed somebody like that. She has been a blessing for us.”

To surpass last year’s accomplishments, BYU needs to become a better rebounding team, Judkins said. He’s hoping for more solid play inside from Wayment and improvement from Salmon, a New Zealander, and juniors MaCayla Hanks Longson and Haley Bodnar Rydalch. Sara Hamson will join the basketball team full-time when volleyball ends, just as her sister, Jennifer, once did.

Chase will be the point guard, but expectations are high for freshman Maria Albiero, who is from Londrina, Brazil. Another product of New Zealand, USC transfer Khaedin Taito, is also eligible after sitting out last year.

BYU women’s basketball overview

Key returnees • G Cassie Broadhead-Devashrayee, G Brenna Chase, F Amanda Wayment, F Jasmine Moody.

Key losses • G Makenzi Pulsipher, F Kalani Purcell, G Kristine Nielson.

Key newcomers • G Malia Nawahine, G Maria Albiero, C Sara Hamson.

Outlook • Having graduated two of the best players in program history, Makenzi Pulsipher and Kalani Purcell, the Cougars face a bit of a rebuilding season. High-scoring guard Cassie Broadhead-Devashrayee returns after winning WCC Player of the Year honors last year, but the Cougars lack dominant inside players again.