LAS VEGAS — Jeff Judkins enjoys an immense luxury with BYU’s guard line and all of it was on display Monday as the No. 1 seed and WCC champs corralled a good No. 4 Santa Clara team 87-67 in the semifinals of the league tournament.
Deadly shooters, ball hawks, multi-faceted dribblers, zone busters, Judkins can go big or small. It was too much for Santa Clara to handle in the Orleans Arena.
You start with WCC Player of the Year Lexi Eaton Rydalch, who tied the late Hank Gathers as the most prolific scorer in league history — men or women — with her 25-point effort in Monday's matinee game. Rydalch has 2,490 points, which surpassed Danny Ainge on BYU's women/men scoring list.
“It’s kind of mind-blowing, he’s a legend,” said Rydalch of Gathers and his mark. Rydalch needs one point Tuesday to become the league’s all-time scoring leader.
Santa Clara coach JR Payne credited Judkins and the experience of his guards for the 20-point outcome.
"They’re a very good team and they’re very well-coached. They have a very experienced backcourt. It’s like a puzzle — we do one thing and they do something else.”
Rydalch, who has 53 points in two Las Vegas games, has fast hands and feet that make her a skilled driver. She is a prolific scorer with supreme confidence. For WCC foes, she’s been a toxin.
BYU's other senior, 5-foot-5 Kylie Maeda, is a scatter-bug dribbler with great balance and vision and she's deadly from distance when defenders smother Rydalch and junior McKenzie Pulsipher. Maeda had 16.
Pulsipher is a smart, steady ball handler and great set-shot artist with a good handle. “I’ve never seen anyone get fouled on 3-pointers as much as she does,” said Judkins. “She doesn’t see arms, only the rim.” She had 17.
Judkins inserted Cassie Broadhead’s height for the diminutive Maeda when Santa Clara deployed pressure. Broadhead, who is four inches taller, “could see” over the press to pass “and does better against physical players,” said Judkins. She had 11 in 15 minutes and was a perfect 2 for 2 from the field and 6 for 6 from the line.
“She’s my point guard of the future,” said Judkins.
All these guards, just like their coach, are engaged and intense. And they don’t slack on defense.
So, the 26-5 Cougars held off the Broncos early, in a 20-point win that was tougher than it looked on paper. The efficiency at which Judkins’ team executed down the stretch was impressive. Lay it on Rydalch and the backcourt, which combined for 69 of the 87 points — or 79 percent of the team total.
“It’s been a great opportunity I’m going to miss,” said Pulsipher of her court time with Rydalch and Maeda.
“It takes time to gel with teammates and how they are going to play. I think we have that figured out. We know each other’s tendencies and each other’s strengths and we all do a good job playing to those tendencies. Playing with Kylie and Lexi is great and I’m enjoying it as much as I can.”
To show just how deadly this group can be, when the game was close and Broadhead came in to help bust through the Bronco zone and set up Rydalch, Pulsipher had gone 1 for 7 from downtown.
In the final five minutes, Pulsipher hit a trey, then another 25 seconds later to give the Cougars a commanding 71-53 advantage. After Rydalch buried a 25-footer, BYU led 78-59. Maeda came in the game with a minute left and found herself in the corner and on the end of a rocket kick out from Rydalch and she buried it.
Wound, meet salt.
That flurry at the end was an exclamation point.
Cake, meet icing.
Judkins does have the best guard line in the league.
And that’s why they’ve enjoyed the longest stay possible in Las Vegas.