BYU women’s basketball taking extra precautions amid COVID-19 surge; Cougars beat San Francisco in conference opener

The Cougars won their conference opener after having their first two WCC games postponed.

The BYU women’s basketball sat around much of last week instead of running and shooting on a basketball court. The players had to practice against themselves instead of starting the West Coast Conference schedule against San Diego and Portland. Those two games were postponed due to COVID-19 cases within the programs.

The No. 18 Cougars finally started WCC play with a 76-64 win over the University of San Francisco Dons. But the way they played left coach Jeff Judkins with a realization.

“I think we saw tonight that it is important for us to try to get games — at least one game a week if we can — with this COVID and just keep our rhythm,” Judkins told The Salt Lake Tribune by phone after the game. “We just seemed to be a little bit off. Just a step off a little bit tonight.”

A strong second quarter and a good stretch in the third allowed the Cougars to play some of their younger players and coast to a victory, giving the team an 11-1 overall record. Sophomore forward Lauren Gustin led the way for the Cougars with 16 points and 14 rebounds on 8-of-9 shooting.

Senior guard Paisley Harding scored 19, but it took her 17 shots to get there. Sophomore guard Shaylee Gonzales and senior guard Maria Albiero added nine points apiece.

The omicron variant of the coronavirus, though, has now proven to be something every basketball team in the country will have to attempt to avoid if it wants to keep playing games. A few weeks ago, a COVID-19 outbreak hit BYU, putting Judkins in quarantine first before it spread through other members of the staff and a few players, Judkins said.

The team has recently gone back to the practices from last season: wearing masks during team meals and film sessions, constant hand washing, putting masks on right after practice. Judkins said the players have been told that when they go to the grocery store or restaurant, for example, that they should wear a mask, and to also be more selective about social gatherings.

“We’re just trying to be really, really careful,” Judkins said.

Judkins added that dealing with the current COVID-19 surge might be more difficult than last season.

“Last year, everything was all isolated,” Judkins said. “We want fans. We want fans to come to the games and we want excitement. ... We just have to be really, really careful. This new COVID is way more contagious for some reason. So we have to even be more cautious.”

On the court, BYU won Thursday’s game in the paint, outscoring the Dons 46-22. The Cougars also dominating the boards, outrebounding the Dons 50-28. The rebounding margin allowed BYU to tally 22 second-chance points.

Although the Cougars only won by 12, the game wasn’t all that close. Their biggest lead was 26, and they led by about 20 for much of the second half.

San Francisco was missing two of its best players due to COVID-19, which forced the Dons to go small. Judkins said that allowed Gustin and the rest of the team to take advantage inside.

Men’s basketball

The BYU men’s team also played its West Coast Conference opener on Thursday and beat Pacific, 73-51.

Five Cougars scored in double figures, led by guard Alex Barcello with 15 points. Barcello shot 4 of 7 from the 3-point line and also reached 1,000 career points at BYU.