We have to come out and really play with a lot of confidence early and not let the other team have any confidence. —BYU head coach Jeff Judkins
LAS VEGAS — The BYU women's basketball team is playing in its first West Coast Conference Tournament, but coach Jeff Judkins is drawing upon a lesson learned last year in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
One year ago, the Cougars boasted the No. 1 seed but lost on a buzzer-beater to archrival Utah in the semifinals and were ousted from the league tournament. As a result, BYU failed to go to the NCAA Tournament.
"Last year we came out and didn't play well and got in a hole," Judkins said. "We need to get ready to play."
This year, the Cougars (24-6) are the No. 2 seed. They square off against No. 3 San Diego Saturday in the WCC Tournament semifinals at the Orleans Arena.
The Toreros (22-7) advanced to the semifinals after downing No. 7 Portland, 70-60, Friday as Dominique Conners poured in a game-high 25 points and Amy Kame added 24.
The winner of the BYU-San Diego showdown advances to Monday's championship game, with the tournament champion receiving an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
To advance to the title tilt, Judkins knows his team needs to play up to its potential.
"We have to come out and really play with a lot of confidence early and not let the other team have any confidence," he said. "We've worked really hard all year to get where we are. We're used to playing two games a week all year so you practice certain ways and this is changed a little bit, it's kind of like a bye week, so I didn't give them time off this week. I didn't go long the first day of the week then planned to go longer the next day and then longer the next practice to try and make it more like we are used to. But our team has had the experience of being here the last three years."
The WCC Tournament format has the top two seeds receiving byes until the semifinals.
"I think my team is more ready for this format," Judkins said. "The old format I liked because everybody was equal (in practices and schedule for the week of the tournament). We're just going to have to be ready to play because whoever it is, they're going to have had one or two games in that arena under their belts, that kind of tournament experience. That is just the way it is."
Guard Haley Steed said the tournament format is unusual.
"There is only one time this season we played Saturday-Monday. It's kind of weird. Obviously we can't practice on Sunday, so it's a different preparation for us. It will be nice to have that day of rest in between and it's sweet that we have a bye until the semifinals on Saturday. It will be up to us to bring the intensity needed into practices. Everybody will have played in the gym and have a tournament atmosphere. Last year that worked against us and we weren't prepared to play that first game against Utah when they were on a run. Our biggest focus this whole week is to make it super serious to us, we can't let anything slip."
Contributing: Dick Harmon
No. 3 San Diego (22-7)
vs. No. 2 BYU (24-6)
Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Saturday March 3rd, 3 p.m.