BYU basketball teams confident heading into WCC tourney

Cougar women win conference title; men finish season with second straight blowout victory.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU guard Shaylee Gonzales (2) leads a fast break for the Cougars, in women's basketball action between the BYU Cougars and the Pepperdine Waves, at the Marriott Center in Provo, on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Judkins scored his 450th win tonight.

Provo • The BYU women’s basketball team waited for this moment all season. The moment when the Cougars could officially say the West Coast Conference title belonged to them and only them.

The Cougars secured the outright championship Saturday with a blowout 82-52 road win over Pacific, bringing their WCC record to 15-1 and 25-2 overall. It’s the team’s first conference title since the 2015-16 season.

“This is big for our program to be able to win this conference,” coach Jeff Judkins said via videoconference after the game. “Gonzaga has won it so many years. It’s good for us to be able to really do it.”

The women not only secured the regular season title, but also earned the WCC Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. Their run starts Monday, March 7.

“We’re favored to win the tournament,” Judkins said. “We’re going to go out there with a lot of confidence and know that we can do that.”

Sophomore guard Shaylee Gonzales had 18 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Senior guard Paisley Harding added 14 points.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Fousseyni Traore (45) scores as Loyola Marymount Lions guard Lamaj Lewis (13) defends, in WCC basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Loyola Marymount Lions at the Marriott Center in Provo, on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.

The men, meanwhile, beat Pepperdine 75-59 and unofficially grabbed the No. 5 seed in the tournament. That means they’ll play Friday, March 4, to start their WCC Tournament run.

“That’s not a space we’ve occupied maybe ever,” Pope said of the team’s position in the tournament. “I do like our trend. I do like our momentum.”

Senior guard Te’Jon Lucas had a message of patience, saying the Cougars will take things one game at a time once the WCC Tournament starts. In the same breath, he let out what could be considered something of a warning to other teams.

“Landing in fifth is clearly not where we wanted to be,” Lucas said. “I think we probably will be one of the scariest fifth-place teams in the conference and any conference.”

The Cougars, Lucas said, have been playing with a sense of urgency for the past couple of weeks. After dropping four straight games last might, practically every game since has been as close to a must-win as possible if BYU wanted to keep its spot on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament picture.

That heightened focus might be the edge the Cougars need in order for them to have a chance at some upsets.

“Honestly, we’ve been playing like our life is on the line for the last couple of weeks,” Lucas said. So this is nothing new to us and I think we’re going to carry that edge over to Vegas.”

Freshman Fousseyni Traore had a career game, scoring 25 points, grabbing 19 rebounds and blocking two shots. He received praise from both Alex Barcello and Lucas after the game, when he had already finished his postgame media session.

But Traore expressed just as much confidence as his senior teammates when it comes to what’s ahead.

“I feel like it’s time,” Traore said. “We’re all excited. We’re going to go do some big things there. Just wait and see.”

In a tribute, coach Mark Pope subbed in seniors Gavin Baxter and Richard Harward for one possession. The two suffered season-ending injuries and had not played at all. Baxter tore his ACL earlier in the season, and Harward took a “step back” from basketball due to a heart issue.