BYU women’s basketball suits up for conference tournament

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LAS VEGAS — Having taken the No. 2 spot in the WCC, BYU women’s basketball will play in the semi-finals on Saturday in Las Vegas.

There’s more to the tournament than just gaining the conference title. If the team wins it will receive an automatic spot in the NCAA tournament. Last year the team wasn’t chosen to compete in the tournament.

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Kim Parker, 4, goes for a layup against Santa Clara's Meagan Fulps on Thursday's game at the Marriott Center.
“I think we haven’t taken the right mindset to the conference tournament,” senior Haley Steed said. “Last year I don’t know if we had a tough enough mindset of we want to go win the tournament. We felt comfortable with the position we were in, we didn’t really feel like we had to win the tournament to make it into the NCAA.”

The players and coaches agree that to play in the NCAA tournament they must take home this WCC title.

“We’ve just got to go out and win it,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “It’d be great, it’d be something we’ve worked hard for.”

[pullquote]”We’ve just got to go out and win it.” BYU Coach Jeff Judkins[/pullquote]

The team has an impressive track record overall, with 24 wins, 12 being conference games.

“We’ve played a tougher schedule than the year before,” Judkins said. “We’ve won and I think we’ve beaten some good teams.”

Their opponent in the first game is, at presstime, still unknown. The University of San Diego awaits the winner of the No. 6 and No. 7 teams, which are Santa Clara and Portland, a game that is being played Thursday afternoon.

BYU played well against the possible teams they will face on Saturday, going 6-0 against them in the regular season. In the most recent matchup against their potential opponent, BYU won 64-50 at home, with Riley dominating the Toreros frontcourt and grabbing 13 rebounds in 37 minutes.

Santa Clara beat Portland in both games this season, winning large at home and by one point on the road. Their team has had to overcome an injury to center Ruta Zurauskytewhich she suffered in a December practice. Junior Lindsay Leo has stepped in to fill the void, but the team has largely relied on Alyssa Shoji for offense.

Portland will need to start fast, having averaged five points less than their opponents in the first half (34-29 disadvantage). Led by Natalie Day, a multiple winner of the player of the week award, the Pilots hope to find a little playoff magic and make a push toward the conference championships.

The odds are in favor of BYU to advance to play Gonzaga in the championship game. BYU beat Gonzaga 70-40 at home, only to lose by 17 in one of the final games of the season. The difference was the defense of BYU, which held Gonzaga to a .219 shooting night in the win, but let the home team shoot .492 in the loss.

If BYU comes in mentally sharp and ready to play, it has the talent and ability to earn the NCAA bid and the conference title.

“I can promise you we’ll be ready and focused on Saturday,” Steed said.

Steed led the Cougars this year in both steals and assists, finishing with 66 and 215, respectively. She is second in all-time assists in BYU women’s basketball. The real question is will Steed be back next year to play again? She has eligibility to play one more year.

“I haven’t made a decision yet,” Steed said. “I’ve been here a long time. I want to finish the season before I make a final decision. I want to just focus on what’s going on now.”

Check out a video made by True Blue last year about Judkins:

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