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With the 2020-21 season in the rearview, BYU women’s basketball is looking toward the future

All four Cougar seniors will return for another season, taking advantage of the NCAA blanket waiver.

(Chuck Burton | AP) BYU's Paisley Harding (13) celebrates after BYU defeated Rutgers in a college basketball game in the first round of the women's NCAA tournament at the University Events Center in San Marcos, Texas, Monday, March 22, 2021. BYU defeated Rutgers 69-66.

It proved to be too much for BYU women’s basketball team to pull off two upsets to continue as a lower-seeded underdog in the NCAA Tournament, but the Cougars were up for the challenge.

However, BYU’s season came to an end in a second-round game that was highly contested throughout. The 11th-seeded Cougars lost 52-46 to No. 3 seed Arizona.

The Cougars finished the regular season with a 19-6 overall record and were second in the West Coast Conference.

“This has been a totally up and down season — it’s been a fun season, though,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said in a news conference following the second-round loss. “It’s been challenging. We have grown so much together as a team. I see maturity in all my players dealing with the issues we’ve had to deal with all year. We got a good piece of what we wanted to accomplish. For next year, we want our program to go up, not stay where it is.”

Judkins should have no trouble building off this year’s success considering all of his players are returning next season.

Although the Cougar roster featured four seniors this year — Paisley Harding, Sara Hamson, Maria Albiero and grad transfer Tegan Graham — they have all made it clear that they will be taking advantage of the NCAA’s blanket waiver, which froze eligibility this school year due to the pandemic, and play one more year.

Harding has been a staple on the Cougars’ team for the last four years and serves as one of the team’s biggest leaders on and off the court. She averaged 14.1 points while shooting 41% from the field in the 2020-21 season.

Hamson, a two-time West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year honoree, surpassed her older sister for the No. 2 spot in career blocks (386). With another season available, Hamson could make a run at dethroning her mother as the program’s all-time leading blocker. Tresa Spaulding Hamson (1984-87) recorded 494 blocks in her career.

While Albiero averaged only 5 points, she was one of four Cougars who averaged more than 30 minutes per game. She provided stability and had the best free throw percentage (85%) of those who went to the charity stripe more than a handful of times.

Graham was a surprise this year. Coming in from Colgate, Graham quickly integrated with the BYU program and became a leader on the team. She earned the nickname “Big Shot Tegan” for being able to shoot down big shots when needed most. Graham made some key 3-pointers to keep BYU in the run against Arizona.

“They told me earlier in the year, it was really weird how it worked, but they kind of told me that over the year ‘coach we want to come back, no matter what happens,’” Judkins said. “Part of it, Paisley’s husband plays for the men’s team and he has another two more years. So, she’s excited to come back. I know that Sara and Maria and Tegan are all coming back, so it should be a fun year for us.”

Judkins also expects to get a few new players and hopefully give bigger roles next year to some of the younger women on the team that didn’t play much this season.

Sophomore Shaylee Gonzales, who returned this season after sitting out the previous season with an ACL injury, said the Cougars learned a lot this year while navigating the pandemic. If anything, it’s making the thought of the 2021-22 season even sweeter, she said.

“I know our team is going to be way better because in the summer we’re going to work even harder,” Gonzales said. “This is going to be a chip on our shoulder. Hopefully, we proved to everyone who we are and that they know that we’re going to be back next year and that we’re going to go even deeper in the tournament. Really looking to get back on the court already — I just want to start right away.”

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