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BYU Women Seeking Respect As They Begin NCAA Tournament Against Villanova

Mar 18, 2022, 11:07 AM
BYU Women's Basketball - NCAA Tournament...
BYU Women's Basketball goes through practice at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor Michigan for the 2022 Women's NCAA Tournament. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
(Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

PROVO, Utah – BYU women’s basketball put together a season for the ages. A 26-3 record was the most victories in a season in program history. BYU’s No. 20 ranking in the final AP Top 25 was tied for the best ranking in school history since 1980.

Despite all of the great accomplishments, BYU still lacks the respect they feel they deserve. Case in point by the seed they received in this NCAA Tournament. After a three-loss season, with two of those setbacks against single-digit NCAA Tournament teams, BYU only received a 6-seed and traveled two timezones away to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

It’s the best seed in program history, but it shows that respect is not earned in the regular season. The respect from the nation is made in March. It’s one of the reasons why everyone from last year’s team that barely lost to national runner-up Arizona returned for another year. To have a chance to make a deep run and bring respect to BYU Women’s Basketball.

Looking to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament

The path to respect begins on Saturday at 11 a.m. (MDT) against 11-seed Villanova from the Big East Conference.

“This is something we’ve worked hard for,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “All of the sacrifices that you make all summer and all during the year is to have the opportunity to be here. There are only 68 teams that have made it, so it’s exciting we’re one of them. I think what’s hard is in the West; we don’t get the recognition that a lot of players get. I think my players understand that a little bit, but they’re not going to put pressure on themselves to try to go out and do something great. They’re just going to go out there and be themselves and play their game. They’ll just show that just by them doing the things which they do every single day in practice.”

For senior guard Paisley Harding, a first-team All-WCC player this season, the chance to go farther in the NCAA Tournament and put BYU up against any team was why she wanted to run it back one more season.

“I’ve believed that since day one, the first game we tipped off this season. I think we can play against anyone. We can put up a good fight against anyone. I’m excited to show the nation that,” Harding said. “Because I think BYU is a little bit considered an underdog, and I love that. I love the underdog story, America loves the underdog story, so I’m excited to go in there and play like underdogs.”

Villanova will pose some difficult challenges, starting with Big East Player of the Year Maddy Siegrist. The junior forward is averaging 25.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

“I feel like they play a predominantly motion offense, and so do we,” said BYU guard Tegan Graham. “So, I feel like it’s going to be an interesting matchup to see kind of which team sticks with a game plan and which team has better principles with defensive motion guarding.”

BYU Women’s Basketball goes beyond its stars

BYU has its fair share of stars with Harding, Graham, forward Lauren Gustin, and WCC Player of the Year Shaylee Gonzales. The firepower from BYU wasn’t on display in the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas. But if BYU wants to make the NCAA run they believe they are capable of, they’ll need a complete team effort to get back on track.

“It hasn’t been one or two players that totally dominate the ball or dominate everything. These guys have played together. And it’s what makes it fun for me as a coach to coach that kind of team because I don’t know who’s going to have the best matchup tomorrow, and that’s what we’ll take advantage of,” said Judkins.

The winner of BYU/Villanova will have the chance to face Michigan/American in round two of the NCAA Tournament. An opportunity that BYU would love to have.

“I think everybody who’s playing in March, in general, is trying to prove that they can win and they can compete,” Graham said. “All of the seniors that came back, we love this team and we obviously love college basketball. So I think it’s just the opportunity to keep playing with one another and keep playing college basketball. March is a fun, fun time in a very competitive time to do that. So I think there’s just a lot of gratitude and excitement around that rather than necessarily one big thing that we’re trying to push or one big thing that we want people to know about our team. We want to win; everyone wants to win in March. But we definitely want to win together.”

BYU vs. Villanova

Date: Saturday, March 19th, 2022

Tip: 11 a.m.

TV: ESPNEWS

Radio: BYU Radio

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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