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BYU women’s basketball eager to get back to work for next season

By Darnell Dickson daily Herald - | Mar 27, 2021
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BYU's Paisley Harding (left) and Shaylee Gonzales embrace before their NCAA Tournament game against Arizona at the UTSA Convocation Center in San Antonio, Texas, on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

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The BYU women's basketball team breaks their huddle during an NCAA Tournament game against Arizona at the UTSA Convocation Center in San Antonio, Texas, on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

Losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament stings.

There were plenty of tears and hugs among the BYU women’s basketball team after Wednesday’s 52-46 second round loss to No. 3 seed Arizona in San Antonio, a game the Cougars led by four with five minutes to play.

The players and head coach Jeff Judkins pivoted quickly to a resolve to improve in the offseason and return to the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re super excited to get back in the gym and get better,” sophomore guard Shaylee Gonzales said just minutes after the loss to Arizona. “Next year we’re going to be back.”

Judkins added: “We need to play better teams in the preseason to get ready for this so when we have the opportunity we can handle it. In the locker room they were ready to go start it up again. We have a lot of big goals ahead of us next year.”

The enthusiasm and optimism is well earned. Early in the season seniors Paisley Harding, Sara Hamson, Tegan Graham and Maria Albiero told Judkins they would take advantage of the NCAA allowing for an additional year of eligibility due to the pandemic and return in 2021-22.

“They told me they wanted to come back no matter what happened this year,” Judkins said.

Those four seniors, along with Gonzales (17.8 points per game) and fellow sophomore Lauren Gustin (11.3 points, 12.6 rebounds per game), made up BYU’s top six players during this season’s 19-6 campaign.

More prominent roles could be in the making for sophomore guard Kaylee Smiler, junior forward Malli Perri and freshmen Tahlia White and Kyra Beckman, along with 6-foot-3 Michigan State transfer Kayla Belles-Lee, who missed most of the season due to injury.

In addition, the recruiting class of 2021 is outstanding. It includes 6-4 Utah Ms. Basketball Emma Calvert of Fremont, 6A MVP Lealani Falatea of Herriman and 4A MVP Amber Kartchner of Logan. Arizona prep standout Amanda Barcello, sister of BYU men’s point guard Alex Barcello, is also coming to Provo along with Rose Bubakar (Frederick, Md.) and Arielle Williams-Mackey (New Zealand).

Hamson, Harding and Gonzales were key components to the 2018-19 team that also advanced to the NCAA second round before losing to Stanford.

“Two years ago our team was a lot different,” Gonzales said. “I think I matured a lot sitting out last season with my ACL injury. I learned a lot and grew a lot mentally and physically. Playing Stanford was super tough. Coming into this game (against Arizona) I believed in my team. We handled this game a lot better than we did my freshman year and that comes with maturity and confidence.”

Judkins said he and his team learned a lot through this year’s NCAA Tournament experience, which included an upset of No. 6 seed Rutgers in Round 1.

“I think we need to be little bit more aggressive defensively,” Judkins said. “Arizona was a little more aggressive. We were playing more personnel and team defense. Next year we’ll play with more pressure and locking in to them. Of all the teams I’ve had at BYU, this team was the most well rounded. What I mean by that is we were a very good defensive team and a very good offensive team. This year we scored more points than in the last couple of years. We’re going to get better because the players are going to work hard in the offseason.”

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