STANFORD, Calif. — It would be easy to argue BYU guard Shaylee Gonzales as the best player on the court in what turned out to be her team's toughest test of the year.
The venue was the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Maples Pavilion, Stanford's home court, where several assumed the No. 7 seed BYU women's basketball team couldn't match up with No. 2 seed Stanford. Given the Cardinal's history and the talent it attracts to the program, such an assumption would be justified, with the Cougars thought to be just happy to be there.
But for much of the game's 40 minutes, the Cougars proved Stanford's equal in several regards, with Gonzales acquitting herself as well as any player on the court, for either side. Sure, the 5-foot-10 guard led all scorers with 32 points, but she also showed a poise and determination that helped carry her team throughout.
Gonzales is just a freshman and given what she showed in Monday's 72-63 loss to Stanford, she's an easy placement as the centerpiece of the Cougars' very bright future.
In postgame, BYU's star freshman had trouble lending herself much praise at all, preferring to focus back on her teammates, with those same teammates more than willing to sing the praises of their younger teammate.
"It was just amazing seeing the impact she had all year for us, and tonight? She was unreal," said BYU forward Sara Hamson following the loss to Stanford. "She was our go-to scorer all night in what was our toughest challenge all year, considering who we played against on their home court."
"I don't know if there's a word (to describe it). She's definitely (a future) All-American," added BYU senior forward Caitlyn Alldredge. "She's greatness. I don't know how to explain it. I've never seen a freshman do that."
As good as the future prospects for Gonzales are, she's just one of many pieces returning for the Cougars next season, and even for the next two years. Alldredge stands as the only consistent contributor the team will have to make do without come the 2019-2020 season, making it easy to be optimistic the Cougars can match and then surpass the season it just put forth.
Alldredge only played one year on the team, after spending four years starring for the BYU softball team, yet is as excited as anyone for what is ahead for the program and grateful she was able to take part in it.
"They're going to come back and get to the Sweet 16. They're not going to let this happen again," Alldredge said of her team exiting in the second round. "… We really can compete and now they know that, so look out next year."
As mentioned, Gonzales represents just one part returning, with the return of West Coast Conference tournament MVP Paisley Johnson along with first-team WCC performer Brenna Chase likely to pay off big. All of the key players off the bench return as well, with senoir Jasmine Moody gaining another year of eligibility and Shalae Salmon likely to see strides along with freshman forward Babalu Ogwu.
But perhaps the biggest leap forward could be the one made by Hamson. The 6-foot-7 sophomore struggled through the early portion of the year recovering from offseason surgery but showed flashes of her tremendous upside during the season's stretch run.
Recently Judkins announced Hamson's decision to forgo playing volleyball to focus exclusively on basketball, which should pay off big on the hardwood. Hamson took a page from her older sister, Jen Hamson, who played both volleyball and basketball her first three years at BYU, before just focusing on basketball for one year.
"She was amazing that year," Sara Hamson said when asked about her decision. "It was a very tough decision but learning from what Jen did, I felt I needed to make a decision. I feel more free now and I'm so exciting to just focus on basketball and become the best player I can."1 comment on this story
As for Judkins, he couldn't hide his excitement during his postgame comments about what's ahead, despite being disappointed with Stanford ending the Cougars' season.
"I'm just really proud of them. We're young," Judkins said after the game. "This is something we've been working hard for, and to be able to be in the tournament and come and play at Stanford where they have only lost one game this year, and compete like they did, makes me really, really proud of them, and know that it's just a start for us. We're going to continue to get better."