(Photo by Jonathan Hardy/BYU Photo)
PROVO, Utah—The BYU women’s basketball team will open its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007 with a matchup against DePaul after earning a No. 10 seed in the Des Moines region Monday. The teams kick off tournament play Saturday at 5:30 p.m. CDT in Rosemont, Ill., on ESPN2.
“I’m just excited,” head coach Jeff Judkins said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think the committee looked at us and thought we had a good season, we played a tough schedule, and they thought we'd do pretty well.”
BYU (26-6, 12-4 WCC) blew through its first West Coast Conference Tournament, putting up 64 points against San Diego in the semifinals and 78 points against No. 23 Gonzaga in the title game to take the tourney crown. The last time the Cougars won the conference title was the 2001-02 season. That team went on to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Championships.
Interviews with Coach and Players
Saturday’s matchup will be BYU’s ninth NCAA appearance. The Cougars have a 3-8 record in the NCAA Tournament.
Cougar seniors Haley Steed and Kristen Riley led the team to a second-place tie in conference play. At the point, Steed comes in at No. 4 in Division I women’s basketball for assists per game, with 7.2, and a 2.66 assist to turnover ration for third-best in the nation. The 2012 WCC Tournament MVP’s assists have helped BYU to a No. 1 assist ranking in Division I. The team averages 19.3 assists per game.
Riley leads the team in points per game with 11.4 and in rebounds per game with 8.0. The co-captain recorded 10 double-doubles this season and signed her name in the BYU records book becoming the 22nd player in school history to reach 1,000 career points. She garnered two WCC Player of the Month awards and one WCC Player of the Week award, also snatching up WCC Player of the Year.
BYU’s underclassmen had a successful season, with true freshman Lexi Eaton throwing down a career-high 26 points during the WCC semifinals and sophomore Jennifer Hamson recording 9.1 points per game and 74 total blocks.
DePaul is 22-10 on the season and earned a 9-7 Big East record, finishing the regular season No. 8 in conference and falling in the quarterfinals of the Big East Championships to Notre Dame. The Blue Demons meet BYU in their 17th appearance in the tournament and have a 9-16 record in the NCAA contest.
“I know our team right now is very confident,” Judkins said. “They know that if they go out and play the way they can, that they can beat anybody.”
No. 2 seed Tennessee also found itself in the Des Moines bracket, continuing its streak of participating in all 31 women’s NCAA tournaments. The Lady Volunteers go into Saturday’s game with a 22-10 overall record and 10-6 SEC record. The SEC tournament champions’ first-round opponent is UT-Martin, which has made it into the NCAA bracket for its second time after making a tournament debut last year. UTM defeated Tennessee Tech for the Ohio Valley Conference Championship title and the automatic NCAA bid after going 23-8 in the regular season and 15-1 in conference.
Fellow WCC team Gonzaga was selected the No. 11 seed in the Kingston bracket and will play Rutgers on the Bulldogs’ home court Saturday.
The last time the WCC had two teams in the NCAA Tournament was in 2002, when both Pepperdine and Santa Clara went. The conference boasts eight seasons with two teams in the NCAA Tournament, starting with Portland and Santa Clara receiving bids in the 1994 tournament.
With Duke and Kansas State also making it to the big dance, BYU is 2-3 against teams selected for the NCAA Tournament.
With a BYU win Saturday, the team will face the winner of the Tennessee and UTM game Monday at 8:30 p.m. CDT.
Ticket information will be posted as soon as it becomes available.