As one of only two seniors on the BYU women’s basketball roster, and the only player who was around when the Cougars last played in the NCAA Tournament, Jasmine Moody has spent the last few days preparing her teammates for what they will experience on Saturday.
“It is a whole different playing field — the energy, the crowd, it is just crazy,” Moody said. “It is going to be a little bit of a shock to our younger players, but I think they are going to handle it well. We will be ready.”
Having claimed the West Coast Conference tournament championship last week for the third time in eight years, the Cougars (25-6) earned the league’s automatic bid, got a No. 7 seed, and will face No. 10 seed Auburn (22-9) of the SEC at 1:30 p.m. MDT on ESPN2 at Maples Pavilion, home of No. 2 seed Stanford.
The Cardinal will face UC Davis in Saturday’s second game and the winners will meet on Monday.
The Cougars practiced in Provo on Thursday, then flew to San Francisco that afternoon. They practiced on the Maples Pavilion floor Friday morning and participated in the traditional news conference as well.
“Hopefully we will get some BYU fans here,” coach Jeff Judkins said, repeating a wish he first made last Monday when the Cougars learned their postseason destination. “I think there are a lot of BYU alumni in [the Bay Area] and hopefully Steve Young will show up. We had a really good turnout in 2014 [When the Cougars beat Syracuse and Nebraska in Los Angeles] and I think if we can do that, we can hopefully have the same results.”
NCAA WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
At Stanford, Calif.
NO. 7 BYU VS. NO. 10 AUBURN
When • Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
TV • ESPN2
Radio • 107.9 FM, BYUradio Sirius XM 143
Moody, who averages 5.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, said the team’s confidence level is at an all-time high after it beat Gonzaga, a No. 5 seed in the NCAAs, for the third time in the WCC title game.
“It is crazy how confident my team is right now,” she said. “It is amazing. I also think we know we have to get to work, because [Auburn] is not going to take us lightly.”
The Cougars better not look past the Tigers, either.
Auburn, which finished in sixth place in the SEC with a 9-7 record, is an excellent defensive team and far more athletic than any team the Cougars faced this season.
The Tigers often unleash full-court defensive pressure, and are third nationally in steals per game and fifth in turnover margin. They force nearly 22 turnovers a game; BYU averages just 14 turnovers a game, so something will have to give.
“We will have to be ready to go,” Judkins said. “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, a 10 seed. I will make sure to tell my team that.”
Auburn forced 52 turnovers in the recent SEC tournament against Alabama and Texas A&M, and scored 50 points off those turnovers.
“It is not pressure that we can’t handle,” said BYU junior guard Brenna Chase. “I mean, a couple of steals are probably bound to happen. We are bound to turn the ball over every once in a while, but we have definitely worked on the full-court press today, and it is something we can use to our advantage to score points in transition.”
The Cougars’ strengths are their three-headed guard line — sophomore Paisley Johnson and freshman Shaylee Gonzales join Chase in handling the ball most of the time — and defense in the paint, led by 6-foot-7 shot-blocker Sara Hamson (2.83 blocks per game).
Gonzales is the second-leading freshman scorer in the country at 16.5 points per game.
“I felt from the beginning that we were going to be an elite team,” said Johnson, who averages 14.8 points and is often called on to slow down the opponent’s best scorer. “I was super excited to have everyone come back and I knew from the start we would just be rolling. I had confidence in us. Maybe other people didn’t but I knew we were going to go far.”