BYU women's basketball vs. UVU 2

BYU senior guard Brenna Drollinger drives to the basket during the 71-57 Cougar win over UVU at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.

What a difference two players can make.

Last year’s BYU women’s basketball team beat Gonzaga three times – including in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game – won 26 games and advanced to the NCAA second round.

The majority of the roster returned for 2019-20 with just one senior – softball player turned hoopster Caitlyn Alldredge – moving on. This summer, the Cougars suffered a significant loss when leading scorer Shaylee Gonzalez tore her ACL, which will cause her to miss her entire sophomore season.

The preseason was a disappointment for the Cougars. BYU posted a 5-5 record heading into the WCC schedule with four of those losses to Pac-12 schools and the other to Mountain West Conference favorite Boise State. With an RPI of 118, the Cougars only avenue into the postseason will likely be another league tournament championship.

“It’s been hard,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “You lose games and you think about what you can do. Usually the only way to change how you feel is to go out the next night, playing well and winning. We need to get our confidence and our swagger back.”

Defensively, BYU is solid: No. 2 in field goal percentage defense (36%) and No. 3 in scoring defense (60.1) in the conference. But the Cougars are ninth in scoring (63.8) and eighth in field goal percentage (38%). Those numbers will have to rise if BYU has hopes of keeping pace at the top of the league.

One area where BYU has an advantage over the rest of the league – except for Gonzaga – is inside with 6-foot-7 Sara Hamson, 6-3 Shalae Salmon and 6-2 Jasmine Moody. If the guards can get the ball inside consistently, the Cougars could be a contender.

“I’ve been really happy with my bigs,” Judkins said. “They’ve played well. We have to get more consistency out of Maria (Albiero) at point guard and we need to have someone come off the bench with our guards to give some good minutes and not have a big drop off.”

BYU opened its WCC schedule with a 59-44 road win at Loyola Marymount. The Cougars will take on Pepperdine in Malibu on Monday before returning home for a Thursday showdown against league favorite Gonzaga.

Here’s a look at how the WCC shapes up in 2019-20.

West Coast Conference Power Rankings

1. No. 17 Gonzaga (1-0, 12-1)

RPI: 7

Trending: The Bulldogs have won nine in a row since losing to No. 3 Stanford in overtime.

Best win: A 64-52 victory against No. 20 Missouri on Dec. 20.

Best player: Jenn Wirth, 6-3 Jr. F (11.3 ppg, 86 pct FT)

The Word: Gonzaga is clearly the class of the league. In the preseason, the Bulldogs pushed No. 3 Stanford to overtime in Palo Alto before losing 76-70 on Nov. 17. The Wirth twins – including LeeAnn (10.3 ppg) — Katie Campbell (11 ppg), Jill Townsend (10.7), Jessie Loera (5.0 assists per game) are the best starting five in the league. Gonzaga did struggle in its WCC opener, falling behind at home to Portland by 20 before rallying in the fourth quarter for a 62-57 win.

2. Pacific (0-1, 7-5)

RPI: 81

Trending: The Tigers won six of their first seven games, with the only loss to No. 7 Oregon State.

Best win: A 58-51 victory against Drexel on Nov. 16

Best player: Brooklyn McDavid 6-1 Jr. F (15.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 53 pct FG, 81 pct FT)

The Word: With McDavid and Valerie Higgins (15.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 3.4 apg), Pacific has a dynamic duo that will give opponents headaches every night in WCC play. Colorado State transfer Sofie Tryggedsson (8.3 ppg, 26 3’s) gives the Tigers some solid outside shooting.

3. BYU (1-0, 6-5)

RPI: 118

Trending: The Cougars were 0-4 against teams from the Pac-12 in the preseason.

Best win: A 71-65 victory at Fresno State on Nov. 21.

Best player: Paisley Johnson 5-9 Jr. G (15.0 ppg, 88 pct FT, 40 pct 3pt)

The Word: The Cougars returned a lot of contributors from last year’s team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament but haven’t meshed together yet. Offensive inconsistency cost BYU a win against rival Utah (an OT loss) but the Cougars will defend and 6-7 Sara Hamson can be a difference maker on that end of the floor.

4. San Francisco (1-0, 7-6)

RPI: 130

Trending: The Dons have won five of their past seven games.

Best win: An 80-57 victory against Houston on Nov. 30.

Best player: Ioanna Krimili, 5-10 Fr. G (15.6 ppg)

The Word: The usual influx of foreign players in the Dons lineup includes Krimili (Greece), who was having a great freshman season until a foot injury sidelined her just before the start of league play. Junior college transfer Lucie Hoskova (14.8 ppg) and UC San Diego transfer Mikayla Williams (14.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg) make USF difficult to defend.

5. Santa Clara (1-0, 7-5)

RPI: 117

Trending: The Broncos are 5-3 in their past eight games.

Best win: A 90-66 victory against Fresno State to end the preseason on Dec. 21.

Best player: Tia Hay 5-7 Sr. G (12.8 ppg, 4.1 apg, 94 pct FT)

The Word: Junior college transfer Merle Wiehl (11.7 ppg) has fit in nicely and Ashlyn Herlihy (11.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg) give Hay more weapons to distribute the ball to in key moments.

6. Saint Mary’s (1-0, 6-6)

RPI: 152

Trending: The Gaels haven’t won more than two in a row during the pre-season.

Best win: An 80-73 overtime victory against Western Kentucky on Nov. 30 in the Saint Mary’s Classic.

Best player: Emily Codding 6-0 Jr. G (15.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 53 pct FG, 20 3’s)

The Word: It’s been a slow start for Saint Mary’s, which relies heavily on 3-point shooting. The Gaels are making 10.5 triples per game and attempting 28 per contest. Codding, Taycee Wedin (40 3’s) and Sam Simons (25 3’s) can get hot at any moment.

7. Portland (0-1, 7-5)

RPI: 185

Trending: The Pilots opened the preseason with five straight wins.

Best win: A 75-64 victory against Fresno State on Nov. 17.

Best player: Alex Fowler, 6-1 Fr. F (17.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 57 pct FG)

The Word: The Pilots can definitely score the ball, averaging 72.4 points per game while leading the conference in assists (19.5 per game) and steals (11.5). Injured Haylee Andrews (ribs) averaged 16.3 points in six games early this season and will make a big difference when she returns.

8. Pepperdine (1-0, 7-4)

RPI: 290

Trending: The Waves had a four-game winning streak from Nov. 20 to Dec. 1.

Best win: A 70-67 victory against UC Davis on Dec. 19.

Best player: Paige Fecske 5-4 Sr. G (11.7 ppg)

The Word: Pepperdine the was the big surprise of the WCC in 2018-19, but league MVP Yasmine Robinson-Bacote (20.9 ppg) graduated and coach DeLisha Milton-Jones left to take an assistant’s job at Syracuse. Fecske is tough and trying to hold things together for the Waves.

9. San Diego (0-1, 7-6)

RPI: 213

Trending: The Toreros opened the season with five wins in their first six games.

Best win: A 70-47 victory against San Diego State on Dec. 11.

Best player: Myah Pace 5-10 Jr. G (11.3 ppg, 3.8 apg, 3.5 spg)

The Word: The Toreros are playing their typically tough defense, No. 2 in the conference (58.5). They are also the No. 1 team in rebounding margin (+7.8). Pace’s all-around play is the key to USD’s success in league play.

10. Loyola Marymount (0-1, 4-10)

RPI: 266

Trending: The Lions have lost seven of their past nine games.

Best win: A 73-72 victory against New Mexico on Dec. 19.

Best player: Jasmine Jones 6-1 Jr. F (10.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg)

The Word: The Lions hope that Jones will continue to improve. LMU is a good defensive team but needs to find more offensive production to move up in the standings. The Lions shot just 28 percent (15 of 54) in their WCC opening loss to BYU.

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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