BYU will go against its second consecutive prospective WNBA first-round draft pick when the Cougars play Arizona in an NCAA Tournament second-round game.
The Cougars will go from playing against Rutgers lengthy 5-foot-11 guard Arella Guirantes to Arizona’s quicksilver guard Aari McDonald, both of whom are projected by ESPN to be chosen in the first round with McDonald a top-three pick.
Although BYU guard Paisley Harding often switched out on Guirantes in the Cougars’ 69-66 upset of the No. 6 Scarlet Knights on Monday, sophomore guard Shaylee Gonzales of Gilbert Mesquite High School also defended her.
Gonzales, a sophomore, is the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, and McDonald, a fifth-year senior, is the Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Their anticipated matchup will be in San Antonio on Wednesday when No. 11 BYU (19-5) goes against No. 3 Arizona (18-5).
“Coming into the NCAA Tournament we just wanted to prove ourselves, and to everyone, to the nation, that that we were going to fight and not let down and that we deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Gonzales said of the upset of the Scarlet Knights of the Big Ten.
Gonzales, who was only 3-of-17 shooting from the field, made 10 of 11 from the line and finished with 17.
Guirantes scored 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting.
Harding had 28 points for the Cougars going 8 of 17 from the field with four 3-pointers.
“(Harding) was guarding their best player (Guirantes), who was probably one of the best players in the country,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “And I think that motivated her and if you know Paisley, she’s very competitive. She’s been waiting for this opportunity.”
Judkins has peculiar history with Arizona
Judkins, in his 20th season as BYU’s head coach, is mostly known by Arizona followers for his background at his alma mater Utah.
He was the leading scorer at Utah, a rival of Arizona, in the WAC days. He often played in classic games between the Utes and Fred Snowden’s most competitive teams from 1974-78.
— BYU Women's Hoops (@byuwbb) March 22, 2021
Judkins was also an assistant under the late Rick Majerus when Majerus coached Utah to an upset over Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Arizona’s defending national championship team in the 1998 Sweet 16. Former Arizona guard Brock Brunkhorst was also part of Majerus’ staff.
Judkins told ESPN after he was hired in by BYU in 2001-02 that he wanted to mirror Majerus’ coaching style of being a players’ coach and discussing in detail each player’s role. Majerus was known to stop practice often and point out the details that needed improvement.
Illinois-Chicago men’s basketball coach Porter Moser, who has his team in the Sweet 16, is also a Majerus protégé.
“I saw it with coach Majerus. I saw how we built it,” Judkins said. “I know what kind of athletes I need for my style.”
Arizona shows balance at the right time
For much of the last quarter of the regular season Arizona reverted back to McDonald carrying too much of the scoring load as she did in previous years when Adia Barnes was building the program.
That resulted in McDonald struggling with her shooting percentage because she was forced to take more shots while attracting double- and triple-team defenses.
Arizona finally showed some balance in the 79-44 win over Stony Brook on Monday with Trinity Baptiste and Cate Reese combining for 34 points, 12 rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots.
Helena Pueyo showed signs of coming out of a funk, making 2 of 3 from 3-point range. She went 0 of 8 from beyond the arc in Arizona’s six previous games.
“It was a really good team effort and really good balance,” Barnes said. “Aari’s our catalyst on offense and defense, so I thought she did a good job (game-high 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting). Trinity took 10 shots and made eight, extremely efficient. I mean, this was a very good performance by our team.”
Baptiste matched her season-high with 18 points and Reese’s 16 points were her highest scoring output in seven games.
Sam Thomas, who matched a career-high with six steals along with three assists, said Baptiste’s contribution as an enforcer inside is very valuable.
“It could be our last game any day and we were able to get the win this time, but she’s just playing like every game is her last,” Thomas said. ” She’s in there aggressive on offense and defense and that’s what we need from her in order to win.”
Baptiste said she was “sparked” by her family watching her play for Arizona for the first time.
“I kind of put a little pressure on them (to travel to San Antonio),” Baptiste said. “They’re back in (Tampa) Florida, so they haven’t been able to travel and see me play. I told them, ‘I’m a senior this year. This is it right here, so I need you to come out and support me and my teammates.'”
Baptiste is a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech playing in her fifth year in college. She can return next season but has not announced either way.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.