LAS VEGAS — Going into this week's West Coast Conference tournament, the No. 4 seed BYU women's basketball team was hoping to meet No. 5 Loyola Marymount in the quarterfinals. Well, the Cougars got their wish.
The Lions defeated No. 8 San Francisco, 75-53, Thursday afternoon, setting up a rematch on Friday (1 p.m., MT, BYUtv) of last week's contest between LMU and BYU. The Cougars fell to the Lions, 68-55, in Los Angeles, and it cost them the No. 2 seed in the tournament. BYU is looking to avenge that defeat.
"It's a fresh wound," said Cougar forward Keilani Unga. "They're the No. 1 team we want to play right now. It would be great to play them again."
After the setback at LMU, BYU bounced back by winning its regular-season finale at Portland. Losing at LMU galvanized the Cougars, according to guard Haley Steed.
"It's turned into a positive thing. We went through this little hardship and we're glad we went through it then, so now we can regroup right before the tournament," said Steed. "We've really been able to have an identity check, and look in the mirror and say, 'What have we struggled with? What are we lacking?' We've identified that it's on the defensive end. That's everybody. We've regrouped and we're confident going into the tournament."
If the Cougars can get past the Lions, they would face No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday in the semifinals. Coach Jeff Judkins knows that the road to the WCC title goes through top-seed Gonzaga.
"We would have liked to have been a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed. That gives you the best opportunity to win the tournament," Judkins said. "But the way we look at it as a coaching staff, you've got to beat teams, and you've got to beat Gonzaga. There's no difference in playing them in the championship game or the game before that in the semifinals."
For seniors like Steed and Unga, the goal for this week is clear.
"I want to win the tournament. I'll be really disappointed if we don't win the tournament," Steed said. "That is an expectation I have and the whole team has. We're not going to be happy winning two games and going to the championship. We want to win the tournament because we want to go to the NCAA tournament. We feel like that's the only way we're going to get there, is by winning this tournament. That is the expectation This is it. If we really want to reach the goals we have for this season, we have to have a heck of week."
While the Cougars are the No. 4 seed, they won't likely be overlooked by the other WCC teams, considering they won the WCC tournament last year — in their inaugural season in the league.
"I think we will have a bit of a target on our backs. Gonzaga always has a target in this conference, and the fact they had won so many championships in a row," Steed said. "For us, being the new guys last year, winning the tournament does put a target on our backs. As it works out, we're on the same side of the bracket as Gonzaga. It should be a fun tournament. As disappointed as we are to have a fourth seed, it's kind of exciting to see the bracket shape up this way. Hopefully we'll be able to mix it up a little bit."
Steed will be counted on heavily, and not only because of her experience. BYU will be without backup point guard Kylie Maeda, who suffered a knee injury last week and is out for the rest of the season. That means Steed could be playing 40 minutes a game, if she doesn't get into foul trouble.
"I'm hoping I don't have to play her that much, but if I do, she can do it," said Judkins. "She knows what it takes ... I think she'll get my team ready. One thing about Haley is, over her career she's always stepped up to big challenges and big games. The tournament is a challenge."
Last week at LMU, the Lions threw a triangle-and-two defense at BYU, which the Cougars struggled with at times. Judkins plans to have his team better prepared this time around.
West Coast Conference tournament on the air:
No. 4 BYU (20-9) vs. No. 5 Loyola Marymount (13-17)
Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, 1 p.m., MST
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AJeffreyCall