The BYU women's basketball program has been a model of success under coach Jeff Judkins and his three seniors who are approaching the end of their collegiate careers. The last two seasons alone have seen the Cougar women build an impressive 48-19 record and a regular-season Mountain West Conference championship.
It has been more of the same for BYU in 2012. The Cougars rolled to a 24-6 overall record and 12-4 as first-time members of the West Coast Conference, good enough for the second seed and a bye into Saturday's 3:30 p.m. (MT) semifinal at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Yet, despite all of this success, one prize has eluded BYU an appearance the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the Cougars have had to settle for a pair of moderately successful runs in the WNIT.
But the WNIT is a mere afterthought to what is really important.
"I think [being part of the NCAA Tournament] would mean everything to this team," said Steed, an All-WCC guard. "We've had good seasons … but not to make the NCAA Tournament is a big disappointment after you've worked so hard."
The Cougars are 0-4 in conference tournaments since their last NCAA appearance, a first-round knockout to USC in 2007. Technically, Steed was a part of that 2007 team, but was hurt early in the year and wasn't eligible.
For the third consecutive season, BYU received a bye into the semifinals and will play the winner of Friday's quarterfinal game between San Diego and Portland.
For Riley, recently selected as the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, her disappointment has been deepened by a bit of friendly jealously. Her sister Lauren played in two NCAA Tournaments for BYU.
"She and Haley have told me how awesome amazing it is," said Riley, a 6-foot-3 wing from San Clemente, Calif. She averaged nearly 12 points and eight rebounds this season.
"I'm so jealous," she added. "I just want to go, you know. It's a deep desire with us that we want to do well."
For Judkins, who guided teams to an NCAA berth four of his first six seasons, not going with this group would be disappointing. To make the task even more difficult, BYU was upset by San Francisco and Pepperdine, placing the Cougars squarely on the NCAA bubble.
An early-season home loss to Duke didn't help, either.
"The best way of solving the problem is to win the tournament," Judkins said. "We have to go out and win and don't worry about anything else."
The BYU women's basketball record and conference tournament results since last making the NCAA Tournament in 2007
2008 • 13-16 (lost to New Mexico in first round of MWC tournament)
2009 • 18-11 (lost to UNLV in first round of MWC tournament)
2010 • 23-10 (received bye to semifinals but lost to San Diego State in MWC tournament)
2011 • 25-9 (received bye to semifinals but lost to Utah in MWC tournament)