Western Athletic Conference basketball in the early to mid 1970’s was like UCLA playing Arizona at McKale Center in the height of that rivalry during the 1980’s and 1990’s.
The entertainment value was similar to being glued to a Godfather movie during that time.
Coaching personalities such as UTEP’s Don Haskins, ASU’s Ned Wulk, Utah’s Jerry Pimm and New Mexico’s Norm Ellenberger were loathed villains at McKale Center.
One of the players who always seemed to play well against the Wildcats was Utah guard Jeff Judkins, who helped the Utes constantly battle Fred Snowden’s teams for WAC superiority. He was a three-time All-WAC selection who went on to the NBA in 1978 as the Boston Celtics’ second choice in the draft that year after Larry Bird.
“Man, they were talented, so athletic. Coach Snowden had an inside, outside presence,” said Judkins, now BYU’s women’s coach who will lead the 11th-seeded Cougars (19-5) against No. 3 Arizona (18-5) in an NCAA tournament second-round game on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Judkins spoke to media Tuesday in a Zoom conference about the matchup with Arizona, and the topic of his past playing and coaching against the Wildcats was discussed.
“The only way we could stop them, my junior year (in 1976-77) we ended up winning the conference, beating them to win it, we went into a triangle-and-one,” Judkins said. “We guarded Herm Harris with one person man-to-man and went into a zone and prayed they didn’t hit any shots. They didn’t that night and we ended up winning. Just some great battles in the WAC.”
Arizona legend Bob Elliott remembered of Judkins, “Jeff was an excellent shooter and a great competitor. Their coach Jerry Pimm was a mastermind at creating wild defenses to stop us.”
Judkins later coached as an assistant at Utah under the late Rick Majerus and was part of the staff that upset defending champion Arizona in the 1998 Elite Eight. He graded that victory at “the top” of his coaching achievements to this point.
“Just great basketball at Arizona; you think basketball and Arizona is definitely one of the schools you think about,” Judkins said. “That was probably at the top (of his career), to beat Arizona, they were ranked No. 1. We ran a triangle-and-two that game (focusing on Mike Bibby and Miles Simon), and to be able to beat them and go to the Final Four, that was definitely one of the biggest highlights in my career.”
Judkins on Aari McDonald: “That girl is unbelievable”
When asked if any player remotely resembles Aari McDonald’s quickness and playmaking ability in the West Coast Conference, Judkins shook his head and grinned.
“The only person we’ve had close to guarding with her speed is our walk-on boy player who is a practice player,” Judkins said. “I mean, that girl is unbelievable.”
McDonald has faced BYU and Judkins before when McDonald was a freshman at Washington. The Huskies beat the Cougars 82-70 on Dec. 22, 2016, in Provo, Utah. McDonald played 22 minutes as a starter and finished with five points and two steals.
“Of course, she didn’t get a lot of shots, (Kelsey) Plum got a lot of those shots, but (McDonald) was really good then,” Judkins said. “She has matured into a really, really good player. There’s nobody who pushes the ball up the court faster than her.
“What do you do (to prepare)? You can’t get someone to do it, you just play against it. Just watching the film, she does it against some of the best athletes in the country. We’re going to have our hands full. Just a great leader, you can tell how well she runs her team.”
Gustin, Gonzales Arizona connection
BYU sophomores Shaylee Gonzales and Lauren Gustin have an Arizona background. Both were part of Gilbert Mesquite’s state championship team in 2016-17 when they were juniors. During Mesquite’s playoff run, it defeated Mountain View and Ironwood Ridge.
In their senior years, Gustin transferred to Salem (Utah) High School and Gonzales led Mesquite back to the championship game. Mesquite beat Sahuaro and Alyssa Brown, a freshman at the time, in the state semifinals.
“(Gonzales) was a complete player,” Sahuaro coach Steve Botkin said Tuesday. “She could handle the ball, shoot and play great defense. She was also a tremendous leader.”
Gustin and her family lived in the Chandler-Gilbert area for only one year. After the 2016-17 season she played in the summer with Gonzales for Team Arizona. Gonzales’ mother Candice coached both of them at Mesquite.
“That was just my one year there and it was a great year though,” Gustin said. “That’s where Shaylee and I became good friends and kind of formed some chemistry on and off the court, which has been awesome to kind of carry over now into college.”
Gustin, whose brother Porter is a defensive end with the New Orleans Saints, is averaging 11.5 points and 12.7 rebounds a game. Gonzales is averaging 17.9 points and 3.8 assists per game.
Judkins compares Arizona’s defense to Jordan’s Bulls
Judkins is so impressed watching Arizona’s defensive execution he compared it to one of the best NBA dynasties.
“They’re quick and they play their spots as good as anybody I’ve seen,” Judkins said. “What I mean by that is they remind me a lot of the Chicago Bulls when they were really good defensively when Michael Jordan and those guys helped each other and helped each other. They can put a lot of pressure on people or they can back off and say. ‘Hey, we’re gonna play position.’
“They’re the best defensive team that I’ve seen this year. You can just tell why they’re holding people in the 40s and 50s. … They have a lot of weapons, how they defend. And every coach that I’ve talked to who has played them has told me the same thing — their defense is unbelievable.”
Here are a few Arizona NCAA Tournament records we set yesterday.
➡️ Fewest points allowed (44)
➡️ Winning margin (35)
➡️ Shooting percentage (58%)
➡️ Most steals (17) pic.twitter.com/AdyZoPweo9
— Arizona Women’s Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) March 23, 2021
Arizona ranks 16th nationally limiting opponents to 55.5 points a game. The Wildcats are 19th averaging 10.8 steals a game.
They are 29th in field goal percentage defense at 36.4. BYU is No. 22 limiting opponents to 35.9 percent shooting.
Sam Thomas and McDonald are two-time All-Defensive Team selections by the Pac-12. McDonald is a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year.
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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.