Last season, BYU was the only team in the West Coast Conference to beat Gonzaga — and the Cougars did it three times. The two regular-season matchups were each decided by a single basket, but the Cougars dominated the Bulldogs 82-68 on the way to their third conference tournament title since joining the WCC in 2011.
Both teams went on to the NCAA Tournament, where they bowed out in the second round.
However, it was Gonzaga who was picked to finish first in the annual preseason poll of the WCC’s 10 head coaches. The Bulldogs received seven of 10 first-place votes, and a total of 78 points.
BYU was picked to finish second in the conference, with 75 points and the remaining three first-place votes.
Regardless of where the Cougars were picked, BYU coach Jeff Judkins said it was a thrill for the team to get to the NCAA Tournament. He’s hoping the Cougars will use it as a springboard for this season.
It was “a year that we’ll remember for a long time,” Judkins said. “Thankfully, the team wasn’t satisfied. We know we can continue to get better and hopefully have a better year this year.”
WCC WOMEN’S BASKETBALL POLL
(First-place votes in parenthesis)
1. Gonzaga (7) 78
2. BYU (3) 75
3. Pacific 61
4. Saint Mary’s 59
5. Santa Clara 40
T6. LMU 39
T6. Pepperdine 39
8. San Diego 27
9. San Francisco 18
10. Portland 14
Pacific finished third in the poll — the Tigers’ highest preseason placement since rejoining the conference in the 2013-14 season — with 61 points, followed by Saint Mary’s (59) and Santa Clara (40).
Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine tied for sixth place with 39 points each.
The preseason poll was rounded out with San Diego (27), San Francisco (18) and Portland (14).
BYU had the most players named to the 2019-20 All-WCC preseason team with three: Brenna Chase Drollinger, Sara Hamson and Paisley Johnson. In all, six programs were represented.
Johnson was selected the WCC tournament MVP.
The junior guard said she used motivation of not making the All-WCC First Team to show what she’s capable of in the conference tournament.
“After that came out, I told [Judkins] ‘well, I guess I’ve just got to show them what I can do during the tournament,’” Johnson said. “I just went in confident, relaxed and just wanted to help my team win the tournament and showcase myself.”
Johnson improved tremendously from her freshman year to her sophomore season. Last year, the guard averaged 14.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
During the offseason, Johnson said she most wanted to focus on ball-handling and creating her own shots. Judkins has seen the improvement.
“She's worked really hard drilling it,” Judkins said. “She's going to have to play a little 2 this year, not so much all 3. I think she's worked on that.”
Another area Judkins would like to see Johnson work on is to pull back just a little bit of her defensive aggressiveness and avoid foul trouble. He wants to have Johnson available when needed — he believed the Cougars had a chance to beat Stanford in the NCAA tournament and advance into the Sweet 16 had she not gotten into foul trouble.
He also wants her to take on a bigger role with the team.
“Her leadership roles has changed this year — she’s going to be more of a leader,” Judkins said. “People are going to have a bullseye on her back. She’s going to be able to handle that.”
Last year, Judkins relied on Johnson in crucial situations. When the team needed a basket in a dire moment of a game, he called her number.
He's looking to do the same with her this year and believes Johnson will be the league's best all-around player.
Johnson, however, doesn't feel like the bullseye is too big or that the pressure on the team to meet last season's success is too heavy.
“Maybe that’s just me being super confident, but I think our team sees how good we were last year and how we were able to make that run,” Johnson said. “We made a lot of mistakes and we had a lot of different opportunities that we could have gone a different way, but I think that just motivates us. Especially this offseason, it has motivated us to keep working. I believe we just keep making those big strides to be even better than we were last year.”