Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
LAS VEGAS — The Gonzaga women's basketball team has won three consecutive West Coast Conference Tournament championships.
The top-seeded Bulldogs are looking for their fourth in a row when they square off against No. 2 BYU today (1 p.m., MST, ESPNU).
Meanwhile, the Cougars, who are in their first season in the WCC, aren't necessarily looking to knock Gonzaga off its perch. They simply want to claim the conference title and earn their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2007.
"Coming into the league, we knew that Gonzaga has dominated this league for a long time now," said BYU guard Haley Steed. "This has been their thing. We're the new guys and we really don't care who's won in the past or what's been going on before. We're not trying to send a message to anybody. All we want to do is win the tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament. They're the team that's in the way."
The two teams split during the regular season with each squad winning big at home. The Cougars beat Gonzaga, 70-40, on Feb. 9 in Provo, while the Bulldogs avenged that loss with a 77-60 victory in Spokane on Feb. 25.
"The first two games were kind of funny," Steed said. "Both teams played really well at home. Both games were decided by early second-half runs. I think both teams understand that the game's definitely going to be a game of runs … Gonzaga is a great team. They execute well. They're well-coached. Both teams played really well at home and now we're at a neutral site. We expect it to be a dogfight. It's a really good matchup for both teams."
Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves — who was born in Salt Lake City and graduated from Dixie High in St. George and Ricks College — said that the Bulldogs and Cougars have been the two best teams in the league all season long.
"We have both earned our positions. With BYU, it was a tale of two games," Graves said. "We got them at our place and they beat us pretty good in Provo. We chalked it up to an aberration. We have never played like that in my time at Gonzaga. At our place, it was a very well-played, intense game and we were happy to get one against them."
Both teams boast strong post play and both teams are expecting a physical matchup.
"We want to throw the first punch this time and put them back on their heels and play like we know how to play," BYU freshman guard Lexi Eaton said Saturday after she scored a career-high 26 points against San Diego. "We didn't play that way last time."
On Sunday, Gonzaga guard Taelor Karr said, "It's the rubber match. We both beat each other pretty good. We want to throw the first punch, do what we can to slow them down. We want to play physical."
What's with all of the punching references?
"We're excited to punch each other, obviously," said BYU forward Kristen Riley with a smile. "Both teams are ready for this game … It's going to be whoever wants to punch harder."
BYU coach Jeff Judkins' translation? "That's probably what they're talking about — who's going to set the tone for that inside presence," he said. "I think whoever does that is probably the team that wins."
Judkins added that his team needs to slow down Gonzaga forwards Katelan Redmon and Kayla Standish. "Gonzaga's inside presence is the key to their team," he said.
Asked if both BYU and Gonzaga should be in the NCAA Tournament regardless of Monday's outcome, Judkins replied, "We deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament — both teams. We've been ranked, we've won 25 games or more each, we've beaten Pac-12 schools, we've beaten Big East schools, we've beaten Big 12 schools. We deserve to go."
BYU (25-6, 12-4) vs. Gonzaga (26-4, 14-2)
Today, 1 p.m.
Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
TV: ESPNU RADIO: BYU radio
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