PROVO — Things have been going extremely well for the BYU women's basketball team (14-3, 6-0 WCC) so far this season, but a big gut-check is in store when Gonzaga (16-1, 5-0 WCC) comes to town this Thursday. The No. 13-ranked Bulldogs, like the Cougars, are undefeated in West Coast Conference play, setting up a game whose winner will be in the driver's seat heading into the midway point of conference play.
As could well be imagined, players and coaches are aware of the task at hand and looking forward to it.
"We're excited, but as a team, we just need to focus on us and playing our game," said BYU junior guard Brenna Chase. "If we do what we need to, then we can beat this team. They're a great team, of course, and we're going to have to play well to beat them. It's going to be a dog fight."
With those unfamiliar with what Gonzaga is as a women's basketball program, it would help to look at the more familiar Gonzaga men's basketball program. While not particularly as dominant as the men, the Gonzaga women have won the last two WCC championships and four of the last six.
This season, the Bulldogs are led by an experienced group featuring senior forward Zykera Rice, who leads the team in scoring (14.3 ppg) and senior guard Laura Stockton, who is the daughter of NBA all-time assists leader John Stockton. As could well be implied, Laura Stockton leads the Bulldogs in assists per game, averaging 4.1.
"You have to go through Gonzaga. Just like in the NFL you have to go through the New England Patriots," said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. "Their ranking is well-deserved. … They've run through our league so far, and it's going to be a great matchup. We have to win this game if we want to win the conference."
Judkins' team isn't unfamiliar with WCC championships, having accomplished the task in both 2015 and 2012, although few expected this year's team to be serious competitors considering the team's overall youth and inexperience. But six games in, the Cougars find themselves with a flawless WCC mark, with four of the six conference wins having come on the road.
"Kids learn quick and it's like quarterbacks now in the NFL," Judkins said of his team playing ahead of the curve. "… This freshman group is one of the best freshman groups I've recruited since I've been here. … So it's a blessing, and hopefully we can keep getting better as the season goes on."4 comments on this story
Judkins' freshman class is led by Shaylee Gonzales, who leads the Cougars in scoring (17.6) and forward Babalu Ugwu, who has been hampered by injury, but appears to be rounding into good form at the midseason mark. Couple those freshmen with experienced starters like Chase, forward Shalae Salmon and guard Paisley Johnson, and things have come together nicely.
"We've had real good leadership, and it's all combined to some good success so far," Judkins said.
BYU's game against Gonzaga tips off at 7 p.m. MST and will be televised live on BYUtv.