Las Vegas • BYU women’s basketball coach Jeff Judkins fought back tears as he spoke about how much he loved the fight from his Cougars team.
BYU lost the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game to Gonzaga on Tuesday afternoon by a score of 71-59. It was just the team’s third loss of the season, that still has more opportunity ahead. Selection Sunday is less than a week away, and the team has been projected as a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament for several weeks.
But Judkins was feeling the loss on behalf of his players.
“It’s emotion because the players wanted it,” Judkins said as tears welled up in his eyes again. “A lot of times in life, you don’t get everything, but you sure want it.”
The Cougars lost to Gonzaga in last season’s WCC Tournament title game on a last-second shot, and the team was hoping for a chance to avenge that loss this year.
“We wanted to really come out and do it,” Judkins said.
Now the Cougars await where the NCAA’s selection committee for Division I women’s college basketball will place them. Losing the tournament championship game took the fate out of BYU’s hands.
Judkins said he feels his team deserves to be a fifth or sixth seed. Charlie Creme, a women’s basketball bracketologist for ESPN, tweeted that the Cougars should be a “no-doubter” for an at-large bid.
“Hopefully we still earned to go to the NCAA Tournament,” Judkins said with a chuckle.
There’s an old maxim in basketball: It’s difficult to beat a team three times in a row. For a team as good as BYU has been all season, such an idea could conceivably feel like the basketball world’s most meaningless anachronism.
But the adage held true Monday, much to the chagrin of the Cougars.
Sophomore guard Shaylee Gonzales scored 14 points and added 12 rebounds, while senior guard Paisley Harding added 11 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore forward Lauren Gustin had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Senior guard Tegan Graham, who did a little bit of everything Monday against Portland, was limited against the Zags. She had five points and five assists in 36 minutes.
“They probably did not like that we smacked them on Senior Night,” Harding said of BYU’s win over Gonzaga in Provo. “They probably wanted to come in and show what was up.”
Gonzaga took the Cougars completely out of their offense. BYU shot just 33% overall and 23% from the 3-point line. Both those numbers are atypical of the Cougars this season.
Judkins said the Bulldogs funneled Gonzales and Harding to the middle of the court and forced players like Graham, Gustin and Maria Albiero to beat them. He added that Gonzaga didn’t allow Gonzales and Harding too many shots at the rim.
Gonzaga’s bench dominated the afternoon, outscoring BYU’s 23-9.
“Today, we didn’t really hit a lot of our open shots,” Albiero said. “I think all of us tried to do a little bit too much, maybe, a little bit here and there. Just not helping each other. It’s normal. It happens.”
Harding said the team was “obviously” disappointed in the loss, but added that she has the utmost confidence in the group.
“Our team has a lot of fight and we have a lot of competition and competitiveness in us,” Harding said. “I’m not worried about us.”