Provo • One more play. One more shot.
When BYU women’s basketball coach Jeff Judkins blows his whistle to end practice, his team usually asks the 20th-year coach for a few more minutes. The players don’t like ending on a bad play or shot. That mentality has led Judkins to describe his team as ruthless. And that ruthlessness will be put to the test almost immediately.
The Cougars will face two tough opponents opening weekend at the South Point Shootout in Las Vegas. BYU will play LSU on Friday and Washington on Saturday.
“It’s hard to play two tough games in a row, but you know, that’s where you get better,” Judkins said. “That’s how you get better as a team. And so, we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Originally, the Cougars were going to face UT-Martin in the second game of the South Point Shootout, but due to travel restrictions, the Skyhawks needed to back out of the tournament. Luckily, officials were able to get Washington to fill the empty slot.
But seeing the way the coronavirus has already had an impact on the season before a game has even been played has set in the severity of the pandemic.
The Cougars will succeed if:
The team can get more production out of more of the roster — having Shaylee Gonzales back in the lineup will be a big help for that. Last season BYU was led by two players, but it wasn’t enough. The Cougars will need at least three big shooters, along with strong supporting roles from the reserves.
The Cougars won’t succeed if:
Chemistry will serve an important role as the Cougars have a lot of new faces and graduated standout Brenna Drollinger last year. The players’ roles are likely to change and everyone will need to lock down their new roles.
The Cougars should see an improvement from last season, which was a step down from the 2018-19 season when BYU made it back to March Madness and bowed out in the second round. However, it will still have plenty of competition within the WCC.
Judkins has been seeing COVID affect different college athletic programs around the nation, but it hits different once it reaches home.
“It’s just so mental,” Judkins said. “And it’s not just mental with the players, it’s mental with the coaches. I mean, it’s like, how do you prepare? What do you do and how do you not overwork them? It’s a tough, tough thing, but it’s going to make us better.”
What will also help make the Cougars better will be the depth the team is boasting.
Returning to the Cougars’ roster are nearly a dozen players, including senior guard Paisley Harding, a 2020 WCC First Team honoree and a two-time Preseason All-WCC Team member, and senior center Sara Hamson, the two-time WCC Defensive Player of the Year who led the nation in blocked shots (137) and blocked shots per game (4.72) last season. Hamson was also a 2020 Naismith Women’s Basketball Defensive Player of the Year Semifinalist.
Most importantly, the biggest return will be from Shaylee Gonzales. After being named the 2018-19 Newcomer of the Year, a 2019 WCC First Team honoree and 2019 WCC Championship All-Tournament Team member, Gonzales suffered an ACL injury and sat out the entire 2019-2020 season.
Being sidelined made Gonzales miss the competitiveness and aggressiveness of games, and being part of that chemistry on the court. But the redshirt sophomore believes she’s more than ready to get back in the swing of things.
“I definitely feel like I’ll be back to where I was freshman year,” Gonzales said.
With a lot of talent returning, and plenty of depth, the Cougars are set to improve off last season.
“This is the best team that I’ve had this early in the motion and the best team I’ve had running the zone offense, because they’re so good as passers,” Judkins said.
BYU’S 2020-21 SCHEDULE
All times Mountain
Nov. 27 LSU at South Point Shootout, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 28 Washington at South Point Shootout, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 1 at Dixie State, 3 p.m.
Dec. 7 at Utah State, 6 p.m.
Dec. 10 Montana State, 7 p.m.
Dec. 12 Boise State, TBA
Dec. 15 Utah Valley, 3 p.m.
Dec. 28 San Francisco, TBA
Dec. 30 Santa Clara, TBA
Jan. 4 at San Diego, TBA
Jan. 7 at Loyola Marymount, TBA
Jan. 9 at Pepperdine, TBA
Jan. 14 Saint Mary’s, TBA
Jan. 16 Pacific, TBA
Jan. 21 at Portland, TBA
Jan. 23 at Gonzaga, TBA
Jan. 30 San Diego, TBA
Feb. 4 Pepperdine, TBA
Feb. 6 Loyola Marymount
Feb. 11 at Pacific, TBA
Feb. 13 at Saint Mary’s, TBA
Feb. 18 Gonzaga, TBA
Feb. 20 Portland, TBA
Feb. 25 at Santa Clara, TBA
Feb. 27 at San Francisco, TBA