BYU women’s basketball has been dominating opponents, and they want more

The Cougars have won their last two games by at least 40 points, which could be an indication that they’re becoming the team they want to be.

(Photo courtesy of WCC Sports) Paisley Harding led the Cougars to a 85-55 win over San Francisco in the WCC Tournament semifinal on Monday. The senior was responsible for 23 points on 9 of 17 shooting from the field, and added seven rebounds, four steals and two assists.

Provo • Paisley Harding doesn’t just want to beat her opponents. She wants to crush them.

“When we’re winning, we want to win by even more,” the senior BYU guard said. “If that’s disrespectful, that’s disrespectful. But it’s time for us to start going.”

Harding, the second-leading scorer on the Cougars women’s basketball team, was talking about a sentiment shared throughout the team. BYU is No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25. It has won its last two games by 42 and 40, respectively, and is riding a six-game winning streak and a 14-1 overall record.

And yet, the Cougars seem to have a collective chip on their shoulders that drives them to play harder, win bigger.

BYU is the only team in the West Coast Conference ranked in the AP Top 25 and in the top 20 in the NCAA’s NET Rankings (17). It’s projected to win the conference championship and end up seeded in the NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s latest Bracketology has the Cougars as a No. 4 seed in the Spokane region.

“I think we just want to let everyone know who we really are and what we can do,” sophomore guard Shaylee Gonzales said.

The Cougars are beating teams by an average of 19.1 points per game, which ranks 11th in the country. Their one loss came in overtime against Oklahoma last month.

The team feels there’s something different about the way it’s winning games this year compared to years past. There’s more of a competitive fire.

“For some reason, we haven’t taken the advantage that I know my team has always had just being a better team,” Harding said. “But this year, I feel like we’re going to make sure we win the games we’re supposed to win and that makes me feel really good. I think that’s what competitive teams are doing right now.”

Coach Jeff Judkins has seen a more well-balanced Cougars team so far this season.

“We’ve won differently this year,” Judkins said. “We’ve scored a lot of points and then we’ve defended.”

BYU is on a roll right now. The team is defending better. It is scoring in every way imaginable. The blowout wins are leading to valuable minutes for the younger players.

Judkins said, though, that it’s a difficult task to keep his group motivated throughout a season during which his team continues to record blowout after blowout. He said that he’s conveyed to his players that they have to work even harder when things are going well — a lesson he learned from playing with Larry Bird during his time with the Boston Celtics.

“I’ve tried to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to push you and push you and push you,’” Judkins said. “And they want that. ... They want to be pushed in every single day.”

That approach has led to a Cougars team that has high expectations up and down the roster — from the graduate player to the true freshman. It has also helped that the Cougars have the proverbial target on their backs and thus get the best shots from opponents.

But BYU has been far and away so much better than most teams this season that it doesn’t matter what opponent faces the Cougars.

“It does have its cons, though,” senior forward Lauren Gustin said. “Sometimes we want a little more competition. But, I mean, we’ll have that this season. And we’ve had a lot of tough preseason games, so I think that kind of prepared us and got us pumped for the conference season.”

Harding has spent a lot of time in coaches’ offices in prior offseasons conveying that she wants to be a “dominant team that doesn’t slip up once.” She mentioned Gonzaga as a program she wants the Cougars to emulate.

There are still plenty of games left to play. But this year’s Cougars might be the team Harding has been looking for.

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