It’s all or nothing.
Or so, that’s how it seems.
When the Cougars closed out the regular season with a loss at San Francisco, it put them on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament — making the West Coast Conference that much more important.
Second-seeded BYU earned byes through the first, second and third round and will make its WCC Tournament debut in Monday’s semifinal in a rematch with No. 3 San Francisco.
Long-time BYU coach Jeff Judkins said his team wasn’t happy with their performance in their last game, but he didn’t know the reason behind the loss. Simply put, the Cougars didn’t play as mentally or physically strong as they needed to.
“I just think we deserve to be in the [NCAA] Tournament, even by losing a game to San Francisco on the road,” Judkins said. “... Does that mean we go and lose the first [game] of this tournament and get in? No. But I think if we win at least one game and get in the finals, we should be going.”
However, the Cougars know merely getting to the WCC championship game may not be enough. The only way to secure their way into the NCAA tourney will be by winning the WCC Tournament.
Last year, the Cougars were upset in the third round of the league tourney and were completely left out of the NCAA Tournament (although the pandemic ended up canceling that altogether).
So, with BYU’s continued postseason dreams in jeopardy, the Cougars don’t want a repeat of what happened last year.
“We know that if we want to go into the NCAA Tournament, we need to win Monday’s game and then win the conference tournament,” WCC Co-Player of the Year Shaylee Gonzales said.
While the Cougars will have gone more than a week without any action by the time they play Monday, the break in action will have served the team some much needed rest time.
In mid-February, Gonzales, who’s leading the team with 17.6 points per game, sprained an ACL, which she’s still nursing. And she’s not the only one beaten up; Judkins said pretty much his whole team is.
“So, we gave them a couple of days off to rest their bodies and get treatment,” Judkins said.
Two years ago, BYU star Paisley Harding felt snubbed by league officials for not earning WCC Player of the Year honors. Alongside Gonzales, Harding led the Cougars to a WCC title and back to the NCAA Tournament.
This year, Harding said the motivation isn’t as individualized as it was previously. But, if any player does feel like they have something to prove, they’ll just have to go out on the court and do the same they’ve done all season.
“I think one thing that will help us to continue to win this season and have a good rest of our season it to look outward more and recognize where we have come [from], because of who we are as individuals,” Harding said. “I think, and I’m pretty sure, as long as we play how we have played all season, we’ll come out on top here at the WCC Tournament. And I think that’s anything any of us could ask for.”