BYU women’s basketball coach Jeff Judkins has described his 2020-21 team as the deepest and most talented he’s had in a long time.
This week, he found another adjective: Ruthless.
“One thing about this team, they are ruthless,” Judkins said. “They are tough. They’ve already been through some tough things and handled it so well as a team. We have good leadership too, and that’s something you have to have.”
The dictionary definition of ruthless is, “having or showing no pity or compassion for others.” On the basketball floor, that means stepping on the throttle and possessing a killer instinct to finish opponents.
“To me, that means we’re very competitive,” sophomore guard Shaylee Gonzales said. “We’re fighters and we don’t give up. If we miss a shot or something, we fight back. We’re always on the go and we never quit.”
That ruthlessness has been built during offseason workouts.
“So far in practices, our team has been nothing but ruthless,” senior guard Paisley Johnson-Harding said. “I feel like every single day competing in practice, players are pushing us all every day and we’re not taking it easy. Sometimes when Juddy wants to stop a drill, we tell him, “one more” because we always want to end on a high not.”
The Cougars open in Las Vegas at the South Point Classic against LSU and Washington, a very difficult test at the beginning of the season.
“Usually we start with exhibition games,” Johnson-Harding said. “Those are intended to get us ready for the season and get our legs underneath us, especially for the newer girls on the team. But we’re jumping right into it with LSU and Washington. It’s going to be a great opportunity for us. For me, I’m more than thrilled. I want to play a tough team every time. Not only do we learn but we get better and it helps our RPI.
“We played Washington my freshman year and unfortunately we lost, so I’m excited to get revenge on them. We come into these type of games as underdogs. I get really excited because I love walking into games were teams are underestimating us and we come out on top. It will definitely be a wake up but I think it will be a good wake up for us.”
The Cougars got some good news last week when Michigan State transfer Kayla Belles-Lee received a waiver from the NCAA to play right away. Belles-Lee won’t be on the first road trip as she continues to recover from a knee injury. Junior forward Signe Glance had off-season knee surgery and is out until January and redshirt freshman forward Kyra Beckman is also recovering from knee surgery. Senior center Sara Hamson, the West Coast Conference defensive player of the year in 2019-20, had her meniscus repaired in the off-season. Judkins said he wasn’t sure Hamson would be ready for the season but she will be in uniform this weekend.
“We’ve been really fortunate that we’ve had the opportunity to practice more than anybody else in the country,” Judkins said. “We have a lot of returning players and we challenged them to go hard against each other. I know our team is ready to start playing games. It’s been a long summer and preseason. It’s hard to play two tough games in a row but that’s how you get better as a team, so we’re looking forward to it.”
BYU stays on the road and will play at Dixie State in St. George on Tuesday and at Utah State in Logan on Dec. 7. The Cougars’ first home game is Dec. 10 against Montana State.
LSU finished 20-10 overall last season and 9-7 in SEC play. The Tigers return two double-digit scorers in 5-foot-7 senior guard Khayla Pointer (14.8 points per game) and 6-5 center Faustine Aifuwa (10.9). LSU is coached by Nikki Fargas, now in her tenth season.
This is the first meeting between BYU and LSU.
Washington was just 13-17 last year and 5-13 in the Pac 12. Top scorer Amber Melgoza (17.2) graduated so 6-1 junior Haley Van Dyke (8.2) and 6-11 senior Missy Peterson (7.0) are the top two returning scorers for Jody Wynn’s Huskies. Washington lead the overall series with BYU 7-5 and has won the past two meetings: 82-70 in Provo in 2016 and 80-72 in Seattle in 2017.