Provo • Like every college women’s basketball team in the country, BYU learned its NCAA Tournament seeding, opponent and first-round destination a couple hours earlier than expected Monday afternoon.
But that didn’t take away from the excitement for the Cougars, who are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2016 after having earned an automatic bid last week by winning the West Coast Conference tournament championship.
“We are super pumped,” said senior forward Jasmine Moody, the only member of this year’s team who played in that game, a 78-69 loss to Missouri in Austin, Texas.
For the third time, BYU will enter the tournament as a No. 7 seed, matching the best seed in program history. The Cougars (25-6) will meet No. 10 seed Auburn (22-9) at Stanford on Saturday in a first-round game. Tipoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. MDT and the game will be televised by ESPN2.
Coach Jeff Judkins said a No. 7 seed is fair and appropriate for the Cougars, who have won eight straight games. Judkins and his staff believed the Cougars would get seeded anywhere between 6-11, while acknowledging that BYU’s policy of not playing on Sundays limited where the selection committee could seed them and send them.
“Hopefully we get some BYU fans in the Bay Area to come support us,” Judkins said. “I know there are a lot of BYU alumni in the San Francisco area and hopefully [former 49ers quarterback] Steve Young will show up.”
Stanford, a No. 2 seed and the Pac-12 conference tournament champion, will host No. 15 UC Davis in another first-round game. Saturday’s winners will meet at Stanford in a second-round game Monday. Moody has already warned her teammates that NCAA Tournament games are a different animal.
“It is a whole different playing field — the energy, the crowd, it is just crazy," she said. "It is going to be a little bit of a shock to our younger players, but I think they are going to handle the pressure well. I think that our coaching staff is going to prepare us well this week and we will be ready.”
The 2019 bracket was supposed to have been revealed at 5 p.m. MDT on ESPNU; however, it was leaked on social media around 2:30 p.m. and the NCAA issued the following statement a half-hour later:
“An unfortunate technical error by ESPN revealed the 2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship bracket earlier today. We regret the network’s mistake and are working with our partners at ESPN to prevent similar errors in future years.”
That took some of the fun out of it for the Cougars, said sophomore guard Paisley Johnson, but the thrill returned when they got to watch the show together and saw ESPN analysts say BYU would have a difficult time with Auburn’s pressure defense. The Tigers average 12.2 steals per game and get 23.7 points off turnovers per game.
“I love playing against teams that press us, because, especially the starting guards, we are all pretty fast and we all can handle it and get it up," Johnson said. “I love pressure, so I am excited for that. If they are bringing that, ‘come on.’ "
Auburn placed sixth in the Southeastern Conference and lost 64-62 to Texas A&M in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament on March 9 in Greenville, S.C. The Tigers went 9-7 in league play and are led by senior Janiah McKay, who averages 13.8 points per game. McKay made the All-SEC Second Team and the SEC All-Defensive Team.
“The only thing I know is they play in the Southeast Conference and they were in the middle of the pack and they are really athletic, Judkins said. "It is a really tough conference. We will have to be ready to go. The last time we played a team from that conference it was the same deal. We were a seven seed. And we got beat by Missouri. So we need to be ready to go. I will make sure I tell my team that.”
Johnson is also impressed by Auburn’s dancing, having watched several videos of the Tigers having fun after big wins that were posted on various social media outlets.
“They look like a fun team, a lot like us,” she said.
Saturday’s NCAA Tournament First-Round Game
At Maples Pavilion, Stanford, Calif.
No. 7 BYU (25-6) vs. No. 10 Auburn (22-9), 1:30 p.m. MDT