The common storyline of the BYU women’s basketball team heading into the 2014–2015 season had to do with how well coach Jeff Judkins’ team could continue success without the graduated Jennifer Hamson.
Overcoming that 6-foot-7-inch question mark would be the key to the season, but it would take a reinvention of team identity to compensate for the void left by the program’s star center.
The Cougars found the answer in the West Coast Conference tournament, where a steady dose of first-team all–tournament players Lexi Eaton, Morgan Bailey and Makenzi Morrison toppled Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and San Francisco on their way to becoming WCC Tournament champions.
“First of all, I am really proud of our team,” Judkins said following the championship game win. “This was a long four weeks, and to be able to top it off like this shows a lot of the character of this team. This team could have quit.”
The No. 5-seeded Cougars made WCC history by becoming the lowest seeded team to win the Tournament championship.
“Whatever seed you are (in the WCC Tournament), it doesn’t matter,” Eaton said after being named Tournament MVP. “What matters is how you play at the end of the year.”
But the team wasn’t exactly playing lights-out heading into Las Vegas. The Cougars had just dropped four of their final five games to end the regular season with a 20–9 record, falling from second to fifth in WCC standings. Dreams of a second consecutive at–large bid to the NCAA Tournament were all but dashed, leaving the automatic qualifier bid as the only option for a Tournament redux.
It took a last–second game-winner over Saint Mary’s in the first round, a double-digit second-half comeback to dethrone No. 1 Gonzaga in the semifinals and eleven 3–pointers to break San Francisco in the final, as the Cougars’ clutch play paved the way to a guaranteed spot back in the Big Dance.
BYU was selected as a No. 14 seed and was paired up with No. 3 Louisville in Florida, where its magical run came to an end in a disappointing 86–53 defeat.
“It was a rough, physical game,” said Morrison, whose face took the brunt end of a cheapshot from Louisville’s Mariya Moore. “We adjusted a little bit as we went on, but it was too late in the game. We gave them too much momentum. You can make winning a habit, you can make losing a habit, and I would love to make coming to the NCAA Tournament a habit. I would love to come back next year and win.”
Judkins will once again have his work cut out for himself as he attempts to replace WCC Player of the Year Morgan Bailey next season. Softening the blow will be the return of Eaton, Morrison and starting point guard Kylie Maeda in 2015–2016. Young forwards Micaelee Orton and Alohi Robins-Hardy are both expected to help fill Bailey’s shoes, while sophomore Kristine Fuller and freshman Cassie Broadhead are the frontrunners to fill the role vacated by senior guard Xojian Harry.