PALO ALTO, Calif. — Most athletic teams claim good chemistry, although several of those same teams can't really back up the claim or at least fall just short of the public perception they work to convey.
As for the BYU women's basketball team, however, its chemistry is readily apparent and has played a central force in winning the West Coast Conference championship and then securing a first-round win in the NCAA Tournament over Auburn.
The No. 7-seeded Cougars take on No. 2 seed Stanford for their second-round game on Monday, hopeful to extend their remarkable season for several reasons, including the simple desire to spend more time together.
"Ever since I started playing basketball I've been part of a lot of teams and it makes a huge difference, and this team has maybe the best chemistry I've been a part of. It's amazing," said BYU sophomore guard Paisley Johnson. "I mean, there's always some drama or whatever with most teams, but I can honestly say this team has been perfect with how we support one another and how we truly love one another."
That chemistry helped enable BYU to withstand a late run by Auburn in the first round in pulling out a 73-64 win, which is something that may have not happened a year ago, given similar circumstances.
"With last year's team we had no chemistry," bluntly stated BYU junior forward Shalae Salmon. "It was kind of sad, and it was hard to play together because of the chemistry we didn't have off the court. But being able to work on it this year has really bonded us."
According to players and coaches, a lot of that chemistry has come naturally with what is a relatively young team, although returning players certainly were aware of what ailed them a year ago.
"This year we were just mindful to give everyone a chance and to include everyone," said BYU junior guard Brenna Chase. "That's helped a lot and it's to the point now where I can honestly say there's not a single player on this team I dislike. It's helped so much and really has been a big difference."
Throughout the season players and coaches have referenced a preseason summer trip to Europe, where they spent two weeks together in close quarters while working to develop a unity that has since blossomed.
"It was a beautiful trip, and it really wasn't about basketball much at all," Johnson said. "We were able to experience something and we experienced it together, and we had to spend time with one another. It was just a beautiful experience and something none of us will ever forget."
Spending so much time together during the season can wear down some, but with this BYU team, they get together often before and during team activities.
"When you have 80 people going out to dinner every night and hanging together and wanting to be with each other instead of running to their families or somewhere else, you know you have great teamwork and chemistry," said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. "This team has been this way for, really, the start of the season. They just want to hang with each other. They like to do things together. If people know me very well, I don't like cliques. This team is not cliquey at all."
The closeness is apparent to everyone, and was certainly observed by former BYU great Steve Young, who met with the team following its first-round win over Auburn on Monday.8 comments on this story
"We had a great football player, Steve Young, say something to us yesterday. He said, 'You can just tell your team is really on the same page and they just love each other,'" Judkins said. "And that's the first time he's seen us in person."
The goal now is to continue the season as long as possible, with the task of getting by Stanford a tough one, yet one players are looking forward to.
"Stanford is a great team, obviously, but we're going in confident we can get it done," Johnson said. "We just want to keep this great thing we have this year going."
Monday's second-round game tips off at 9 p.m. MDT and will be televised live on ESPN2.