BYU women have won six straight and are eyeing an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, but better be on upset alert in WCC semifinal against Pepperdine on Monday

Third-seeded Waves are rolling after knocking off Pacific Saturday while second-seeded BYU is more rested but not as familiar with Orleans Arena, WCC tournament atmosphere

(Photo courtesy of Jaren Wilkey, BYU photo) |Paisley Johnson directs her teammates in the first half of BYU's 70-68 win over No. 13 Gonzaga at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, in January of 2019. The Cougars open WCC tournament play Monday in a semifinal matchup with Pepperdine at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas • On the bubble for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, by most accounts, BYU’s women’s basketball team could really use a win in Monday’s West Coast Conference tournament semifinal game against Pepperdine to solidify its chances to make the Big Dance.

It won’t be easy.

If the WCC’s revamped tournament format has proven anything, at least on the men’s side, it is that lower seeds who have a game or two under their belts have a nice advantage against teams getting their first taste of the atmosphere at Orleans Arena. Seventh-seeded San Diego’s 80-57 pummeling of third-seeded BYU in a men’s quarterfinal game late Saturday night is ample evidence of that.

Tipoff for the women’s semifinal is at 3 p.m. MST. Semifinal winners will meet in the tournament final on Tuesday at 2 p.m. MST with the champion earning the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“I think we’ve played a good schedule, and we’ve done what we needed to do to make the NCAAs,” BYU women’s coach Jeff Judkins said last week. “I think if we win our semifinal game, we are in for sure.”

Second-seeded BYU (23-6) has won six straight games and is playing some of its best basketball of the season, but Pepperdine (20-10) downed Pacific 87-84 Saturday afternoon while the Cougars were enjoying their double-bye into the semis. Because BYU does not play or practice on Sundays, for religious reasons, the Cougars won’t get any practice time on the court until Monday morning’s shootaround.

After giving USD all kinds of credit for playing a phenomenal game, BYU men’s coach Dave Rose pointed to that disadvantage in his postgame remarks.

“Someone has to re-evaluate this [format],” Rose said.

Pepperdine’s Jasmine Robinson-Bacote earned WCC Player of the Year honors last week after leading the league in scoring with a 20.4 average and was fantastic on Saturday, leading the Waves with 26 points. Experts say she has WNBA talent.

Judkins said last week that the Cougars expected to face Pepperdine, and he was right.

“The nice thing is we have played them,” he said. “We have scouting reports and all those things. And so that will make it easier. The disadvantage for us is we are not going to be on that court at all playing a game [and Pepperdine has]. So that’s the negative part.”

Pepperdine lost its last two regular-season games to Portland and Gonzaga by 45 combined points, but looked crisp offensively on Saturday, going 7 for 13 from 3-point range.

The Cougars routed the Waves 83-58 in Provo on Jan. 3, then fell 79-65 to Pepperdine in Malibu on Feb. 2. Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed, will meet No. 4 seed Saint Mary’s in the other semifinal.

“We are very excited and we are very confident right now,” said BYU guard Brenna Chase. “I feel like we ended the season on a high note and we are moving towards that peaking point, and we want to keep going up. So, the energy has been really good.”

Chase, a WCC First-Team selection with a 12.4 scoring average, said Pepperdine’s advantage of having played at the arena more recently could be significant, but she’s not overly concerned.

“We just need to play our game,” Chase said. “If we play our game and we play good defense and get the ball moving on offense, we are going to be just fine.”

Said sophomore guard Paisley Johnson, an all-WCC second-team honoree: “We’re a bit young and a lot of our players haven’t played in a conference tournament game before, but we will compete. That’s what we do, we compete.”

Monday’s WCC Women’s Semifinal Game

At Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

No. 2 BYU vs. No. 3 Pepperdine, 3 p.m.