It's a totally different experience than anyone has ever had. It's the NCAA Tournament. It's our responsibiity as seniors to let that experience show. —BYU senior Haley Steed
When BYU tips off against DePaul Saturday night in the NCAA Women's Tournament, it will mark the first NCAA appearance for the Cougars in five years.
Only one of the current players was on that team, senior Haley Steed, who was injured that season and didn't get to play in the game, while another, senior center Kristen Riley, was at the game cheering on her older sister, Lauren.
"It was super disappointing not to be able to play, but it was really neat and I'm glad I had that experience now," Steed said. "It's a totally different experience than anyone has ever had. It's the NCAA Tournament. It's our responsibiity as seniors to let that experience show."
Riley was in high school at the time, but she can still remember the special feeling she had watching the Cougars play the NCAA game against Louisville in Los Angeles.
"I remember the amazing energy I felt in the arena and how hard the girls played," Riley said. "But it will be way different playing on the court and that's what I'm excited to experience with these girls. I talked to my sister yesterday and she gave me some good words of wisdom, to keep my head on the court and not focus on anything else and that's what I'm going to try to do."
Besides those two and coach Jeff Judkins, assistant coach Melinda Bendall experienced the last NCAA appearance, when she was the Cougars' starting point guard and known Melinda Johnsen.
MORE PLAYERS: If the Cougars have one advantage over the Blue Demons it is in their depth.
Because of injuries, DePaul only has seven players, who all must play big minutes. The Blue Demons have had five players go down with injuries this year, meaning they have to bring in extra players to practice with their seven-person team.
"We know they're not very deep," said Steed. "We really want to get in this game and run the floor and use our conditioning and depth to our advantage."
The Cougars go 10 or 11 players deep, although Judkins says he'll likely go with eight players unless his team gets in foul trouble.
The first player off the bench is for BYU is Jen Hamson, the 6-foot-7 sophomore from Pleasant Grove High, followed by guard Stephanie Vermunt, the team's best 3-point shooter. The Cougars will also play freshman Stephanie Rovetti and perhaps freshman Xojian Harry, who has played in every game this year. Others who have played in most games are freshmen Ashley Garfield and Morgan Bailey.
"Hopefully we'll be aggressive and make them work hard and go more full court than they're used to," Judkins said. "I think if we do that we can tire them out a little bit."
COMMON OPPONENTS: The Cougars and Blue Demons have three common opponents this year in Saint Mary's, Portland and Syracuse.
BYU has a 4-1 record against them, beating Portland twice, splitting with Saint Mary's and beating Syracuse by 24 in a tournament in Hawaii.
DePaul beat the Gaels and Pilots handily, but lost to Syracuse 81-65 at home in a Big East game.
NCAA HISTORY: This will mark BYU's ninth-ever NCAA appearance.
The Cougars' best showing was in 2001-02, Judkins' first year, when Erin Thorn led them to the Sweet 16, where they lost to Tennessee 68-57.
BYU was a No. 11 seed, but throttled Florida in the first round 90-52, then came back to knock off Iowa State on the Cyclones' home floor.
BYU NOTES: The Cougars are flying out on a charter Thursday. They will practice at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont late Friday afternoon. … The tipoff for Saturday's game with DePaul is 4:40 p.m. MT. … The winner of the BYU-DePaul game will play the winner of Tennessee-Tennessee-Martin Monday at 7:30 p.m. … Besides Riley and Steed, the Cougars are expected to start senior forward Dani Peterson, sophomore guard Kim Parker and freshman guard Lexi Eaton.
COUGARS ON THE AIR
No. 10 BYU (26-6)
vs. No. 7 DePaul (22-10)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. MT
TV: ESPN2 Radio: Sirius XM 143