This is another in a series of stories previewing the men’s and women’s college basketball season. Coming Thursday: Weber State men.
Provo • Over the summer, the BYU women’s basketball tean took what looked to be a huge blow to their upcoming season after their most successful run in recent years.
Last season, the Cougars made their way back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016 by winning the West Coast Conference tournament championship. BYU ended its 2018-19 season in the Big Dance’s second round in a 72-63 loss to Stanford.
Less than four months later, the Cougars suffered another loss.
Guard Shaylee Gonzales, who was named the West Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year, suffered an ACL and lateral meniscus tear in July.
While Gonzales underwent surgery a few days later, she has redshirted her sophomore season. And just like that, the Cougars are out their leading scorer for the 2019-20 season, which starts Nov. 9 at Washington State.
Without Gonzales, who averaged 17 points, 4.1 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game in her first season at BYU, the Cougars still look pretty much like the same squad as last year, only losing Caitlyn Alldredge to graduation.
“We have a lot back, but when you lose a key player like Shaylee who’s, not just offensively, but also defensively a big part of our team, it’s going to change a lot of things,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said.
“I think it happened early enough that our team has had some time to kind of figure things out, hopefully. This will be an opportunity for other players to step it up, do what they need to do.”
Even though they're down their leading scorer, the Cougars still have standouts senior guard Brenna Chase Drollinger and junior guard Paisley Johnson.
Chase Drollinger, who clocked in the most minutes with the team (36.1 average), averaged 12.8 points, 3.9 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game. Johnson had a break-out sophomore season, where she averaged 14.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
Both players were also named to the 2019-20 All-WCC preseason women’s basketball team.
The Cougars will succeed if: They have the depth to make up for Shaylee Gonzales’ absence. It doesn’t look to be too much of an issue as the bench accounted for 54 of the 105 points scored in an exhibition against the University of Antelope Valley.
The Cougars won’t succeed if: They don’t let the game get away from them and control how physical they play. Coach Jeff Judkins believes they could have beaten Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament had Paisley Johnson not fouled out.
Bottom line: BYU will compete with Gonzaga for the conference title — again — but should still have a successful season. If they are unable to get an automatic bid, the Cougars should still be in a good spot to earn an at-large bid.
Even after her break-out season, Johnson believes she still has plenty more to learn in her final two seasons at BYU.
“I think the jump that I made last year is just evident that I have more room to grow,” she said. “I think I can try new things, learn new things, put different things into my game that maybe I haven’t in the past two years that will just be a different, new spice. Might be fun.”
So far, other players have also started stepping up.
Junior center Sara Hamson has given up playing volleyball and will instead focus entirely on basketball. During the offseason, Maria Albiero and Babalu Ugwu were the one's the team looked to fill in for Gonzales.
And in their last exhibition game, senior Jasmine Moody led the team with 15 points.
Johnson said the team was excited about the end of their last season — not that it ended, but where they ended it. And they hope to build off of that this season.
“I don’t think we’ve become complacent, which is super exciting because that just means we still have this fight and drive to do even better than we did last year,” Johnson said. “And it’s just an exciting feeling.”
BYU’S 2019-20 SCHEDULE
All times Mountain
Saturday at Washington State, 2 p.m.
Nov. 14, Texas A&M-Kingsville, 7 p.m.
Nov. 21, at Fresno State, 7 p.m.
Nov. 26, Utah State, 11 a.m.
Nov. 29, Utah, 7 p.m.
Dec. 6, at Arizona State, 6 p.m.
Dec. 11, at Boise State, 7 p.m.
Dec. 14, Utah Valley, 2 p.m.
Dec. 18, San Jose State, 8:30 p.m.
Dec. 19, Oregon State, 10:30 p.m.
Dec. 28, at Loyola Marymount, TBD
Dec. 30, at Pepperdine, 3 p.m.
Jan. 2, Gonzaga, 7 p.m.
Jan. 4, Portland, 2 p.m.
Jan. 11, San Diego, 2 p.m.
Jan. 16, at Pacific, 8 p.m.
Jan. 18, at Saint Mary’s, 3 p.m.
Jan. 23, San Francisco, 11 a.m.
Jan. 25, Santa Clara, 2 p.m.
Jan. 30, at Portland, 8 p.m.
Feb. 1, at Gonzaga, 3 p.m.
Feb. 8, at San Diego, TBD
Feb. 13, Saint Mary’s, 7 p.m.
Feb. 15, Pacific, 2 p.m.
Feb. 20, at Santa Clara, TBD
Feb. 22, at San Francisco, TBD
Feb. 27, Pepperdine, 7 p.m.
Feb. 29, Loyola Marymount, 2 p.m.