BYU head coach Jeff Judkins and the 6-seed BYU Cougars practice before their first round game against Villanova in the NCAA Tournament. (BYU Photo)

BYU women’s hoops set to begin NCAA Tournament run, looks to build on historic season

BYU women’s basketball put together the greatest regular season in program history, finishing 25-2, but despite so much success, the Cougars enter the NCAA Tournament with a bitter taste in their mouths.

By the time BYU takes to the hardwood on Saturday morning in Ann Arbor, Michigan, it will have been 11 days of sitting on a disappointing loss to Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament title game.

Even with the loss to Gonzaga, BYU earned itself a six seed in the NCAA Tournament, the highest seed ever for a BYU women’s team.

Awaiting the Cougars in Ann Arbor are the 11-seed Villanova Wildcats (23-8, 15-4). Villanova finished second in the Big East.

BYU head coach Jeff Judkins and the Cougars have been preparing to face a Villanova team that plays a style similar to their own.

“The way that we play with our offense motion and our defense, we’re very similar to each other,” Judkins said on the matchup.

Judkins prepares his team to play Villanova in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (BYU Photo)

The two teams are also not shy on superstars. BYU’s Shaylee Gonzales is fresh off of winning this year’s WCC Player of the Year after sharing the award with Gonzaga’s Jenn Wirth in 2021. She has shined previously in March, most notably in 2019 as a freshman when she put up 32 points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Stanford.

BYU wenior guard Paisley Harding has also proven she is built for the big moment. Last year Harding scored 28 points in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament against Rutgers en route to a 69-66 upset win.

Shaylee Gonzales and Paisley Harding celebrate during BYU’s 69-66 win over Rutgers in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

On the other side, Villanova boasts the country’s second-leading scorer in Maddy Siegrist. The junior averages a cool 25.9 points per game. Judkins knows the Cougars will have their hands full.

“It won’t be one person that can just totally shut her down,” Judkins said. “She can score from the outside and drives and post-ups and rebounds, so she’s kind of a nightmare.”

Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist (20) is second in the nation in scoring with 25.9 points per game. (Villanova Photo)

The Cougars are no strangers to big-time scorers in March. It was just a year ago that BYU faced one of the top scorers in the country in Arella Guirantes of Rutgers. Despite finishing with 30 points, the Cougars secured a victory by making her work hard for her shots and limiting her supporting cast.

A large reason for BYU’s success this year is its commitment to team basketball.

“We want to win. Everyone wants to win in March. But we definitely want to win together,” BYU senior Tegan Graham said on Friday.

Tegan Graham during BYU’s Friday practice before they play Villanova in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (BYU Photo)

This BYU team will go down in program history as one of the greatest no matter what happens on Saturday, but it’s hard not to judge a team by what they do in March.

Only two BYU teams have advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, both times as an 11 seed.

It won’t be an easy path, but this year’s group is as capable as any to wear Cinderella’s slipper and take the women’s team farther than they’ve ever been.

“We just want to come out and play BYU basketball and have a lot of fun and enjoy the opportunity that we have,” Judkins said.

BYU’s opportunity starts on Saturday with a capable Villanova squad. The Cougars tip-off at 11 a.m. MDT on ESPNNews at the Crisler Center.

If BYU beats the Wildcats, they will await the winner of No. 3 Michigan and No. 14 American.

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