Third-seeded BYU women face uphill climb in WCC tourney

Cougars have to win it all to make NCAA Tournament, beginning Thursday against longtime nemesis San Diego.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars guard Cassie Broadhead Devashrayee (20) celebrates a call as BYU hosts Utah, NCAA women's basketball in Provo, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017.

BYU’s men’s basketball team probably is going to have to defeat perennial nemesis San Diego, second-seeded Saint Mary’s and top-seeded Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament to get the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Coincidentally, BYU’s women’s team faces a similar path to the Big Dance.

The BYU women, like the men, placed third in the WCC race behind champion Gonzaga and runner-up Saint Mary’s and face a sixth-seeded San Diego team that seemingly had their number in the regular season.

The Cougars (16-13, 11-7) and Toreros (15-14, 8-10) tip off at 7 p.m. MST Thursday in a WCC women’s quarterfinal game at Orleans Arena. San Diego swept BYU in league play, winning 70-69 at Jenny Craig Pavilion and 66-60 at the Marriott Center.

“They beat us twice, and I think they are going into this game very confident,” BYU guard Cassie Devashrayee said. “But on the other side, we feel like we haven’t played our best game against them. We haven’t shot the ball well, and so we also take it as, ‘We can beat them. We know we can.’”

Devashrayee, the 2017 WCC Player of the Year, said the Cougars lost twice to USD because they couldn’t keep the athletic Toreros off the offensive glass and they couldn’t make shots.

“We are confident that if we do those two things, we have a chance to beat them,” she said.

The Cougars were a No. 2 seed but still struggled against San Diego in a quarterfinal game last year. They needed a 3-pointer by Devashrayee with less than 10 seconds remaining to force overtime, then went on to a 75-66 win before losing 59-49 to Saint Mary’s in the semifinals.

BYU coach Jeff Judkins said the Toreros, led by all-conference picks Maya Hood and Aubrey Ward-El, are a tough matchup for the Cougars because of their rebounding prowess and physicality.

Judkins is hoping that last year’s experience in the WCC tournament, a sense of urgency knowing they have to win it all to make it to the NCAA Tournament and Devashrayee’s ability to take over games will be the key ingredients this year.

“To win the conference tournament, you have to have a go-to kid that you can run stuff and do things for her to create baskets for your team,” he said. “I think we have that, and that’s going to help. … Cassie has got to play probably her top [game] for us to win, and we have to hope some of these other players do their part.”

Sophomore Brenna Chase also made the all-WCC first team, and freshman Sara Hamson was named WCC Defensive Player of the Year.

“We know what we have to do in order to get in [the NCAA Tournament],” Devashrayee said. “That’s our goal. We wrote that down at the beginning of the year. We have to win these three games if we want to go, and that’s been on our minds. Everyone on this team is well aware of that.”

If the Cougars win Thursday, the tournament sets up well for them because they won’t play again until Monday in the semifinals. The top two seeds — No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Saint Mary’s — don’t play until Friday and will have one fewer day to rest for the semifinals.

“This [BYU] team in moments is one of the best teams in the league, and then there are moments of, ‘Where are we?’” Judkins said.

WCC WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT <br>Thursday’s quarterfinal <br>At Orleans Arena, Las Vegas <br>No. 3 BYU (16-13) vs. No. 6 San Diego (15-14), 7 p.m. MST <br>TV • BYUtv