Provo • When you discover that one of the best players on BYU’s women’s basketball team is named Paisley, you immediately imagine that the player is a colorful, charismatic leader with a bubbly personality and a boundless supply of energy.
And in the case of sophomore guard Paisley Johnson, those assumptions would be correct.
“She’s quite a character,” says coach Jeff Judkins, smiling.
The 5-foot-9 Johnson is quite a player, too. She’s the second-leading scorer on the team with a 14.4 average, while also grabbing 4.2 rebounds in 34.1 minutes per game.
The surprising Cougars (21-6, 13-3) can clinch at least the No. 2 seed in next week’s West Coast Conference tournament if they can beat San Francisco on Thursday night (7 p.m. MST) at the Marriott Center. Once-ranked BYU wraps up the regular season on Saturday by hosting Santa Clara.
No. 16 Gonzaga (14-2) leads the league and hosts Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount this week, but if the Zags and Cougars tie for first place, the Cougars will get the No. 1 seed in the tournament because they swept the season series.
Johnson, who was the WCC Player of the Week on Jan. 14 after she scored 24 points against Pacific and 25 against Saint Mary’s, defers praise for the Cougars’ successful season to her teammates and coaches, but Judkins says she’s been one of the key catalysts.
“I am not going to lie to you, Paisley has been a surprise,” Judkins said. “I knew she’d be good, but I didn’t know she’d be this good. … Really, she’s probably been the most consistent player that we have had this year.”
PAISLEY JOHNSON AT A GLANCE
• The 5-foot-9 guard was a four-year letter winner at Glacier Peak High in Everett, Wash.
• She played in every game as a freshman in 2017-18 and averaged 5.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in 19.7 minutes per game
• Is averaging 14.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in 34.1 minutes per game as a sophomore in 2018-19
Judkins and his staff first became aware of the phenom from Glacier Peak High in Everett, Wash., when her father, Brent, “made me go” to a basketball camp in Provo prior to her sophomore season. A few months later, Judkins offered Johnson a scholarship. She called BYU coaches the next day and accepted.
“At first, I didn’t want to just do the stereotypical Mormon thing and just go to BYU,” she said.
BYU coaches wanted Johnson to redshirt her freshman year, but she would have none of that. She ended up playing 19.7 minutes per game although the Cougars were loaded with quality guards, averaging 5.6 points and 2.2 rebounds.
“You always come in and think you are the best player. You have to, especially coming into a competitive program such as this one,” Johnson said. “But yeah, last year I was super excited to come in and show them what I got. I think I did a little bit, but last year I was more focused on defense. In high school I was more of a scorer, so I was excited to be able to contribute that this year and kinda show them what I could do.”
“She’s like the Energizer Bunny,” Chase said.
Said Judkins: “She’s brought toughness to this team. We put her on the other team’s best scorer. She’s the best defender we have, among our guards.” Judkins said Johnson is a “good mixture” of two former BYU standouts, Lexi Eaton and Jennie Keele.
Johnson said she’s loved being at BYU after those initial misgivings a few years ago, but acknowledges it hasn’t been easy in the classroom.
“It’s challenging to keep up with the school full of valedictorians,” she said of the academic pressures many BYU student-athletes experience.
And what about that unique first name?
“My mom and dad heard it when they were first married,” she said. “They forgot about it when my sister [Chloe] was born. Then they were like, ‘Paisley, dang, yeah.’ My grandpa, he hated it at first. He was like, ‘what is a Paisley?’
Twenty years later, he’s got his answer.
SAN FRANCISCO AT BYU
When • Thursday, 7 p.m.