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Provo • As BYU's women's basketball players, assistant coaches and supporters reacted excitedly when the Cougars received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament last Monday, head coach Jeff Judkins stared stoically at the large screen, realizing the task that lies ahead.
It was almost LaVell Edwards-like, which is fitting, because Judkins is having the kind of success that the legendary football coach had in Provo in the 1980s and '90s, albeit in a sport mostly out of the national spotlight.
"He doesn't get the credit he deserves," BYU guard Makenzi Pulsipher said. "He's such a good, nice person, but he's also a really, really good coach."
And for the eighth time in his 15 seasons at the helm of the BYU women's basketball program, Judkins has his Cougars in the Big Dance. Seventh-seeded BYU meets 10th-seeded Missouri of the SEC on Saturday at the Erwin Center in Austin Texas.
A giant on campus due to his 6-foot-6 frame, the former University of Utah and NBA player and Utah assistant men's basketball coach from 1989-99 on Rick Majerus' staff has built one of the most successful women's college programs in the West.
He has used some of his former bosses' strategies and philosophies and combined them with his affablenature that makes him one of the most popular figures on campus.
"He's been there, and that experience helps a lot," said star guard Lexi Rydalch, who father-in-law, Mark, played for Majerus and Judkins at Utah. "He was a great player when he played. He knows what it takes to win, and he is also a defensive-minded coach, and defense wins games. The list can go on and on."
As a non-LDS senior from Honolulu, Hawaii, point guard Kylie Maeda has spoken in the past about how Judkins recruited her to a place somewhat foreign to her and not only developed her into a solid contributor, but made her feel comfortable.
"He's a really smart guy," she said. "We watch film a ton. He has taught us our basic principles for defense, and I think that is what it comes down to in this tournament."
After a falling out with Majerus, Judkins was hired by BYU in 1999 to be the school's director of basketball operations. After a year in that position, he was persuaded by then-women's athletic director Elaine Michaelis to help Trent Shippen coach the women's team. Shippen was forced out a year later, and the job belonged to Judkins.
Fifteen seasons later, he's the winningest women's basketball coach in school history with 331 victories and two Sweet 16 appearances (2002 and 2014). Judkins was named a conference Coach of the Year for the fourth time this season after guiding the Cougars to the West Coast Conference regular-season championship, their first in that league. He's won 20 or more games in 10 of his 15 seasons.
"I think the biggest thing I learned from [Majerus] is it is not always going to be a good shooting night for your team," Judkins said. "It is what you do when the ball is not going in and how you do it. The one thing I think we've done a really good job at over my years at BYU is we've been pretty good defensively. We've been able to guard people and take people out of stuff they like to do offensively. Hopefully that will help us in this tournament."
Judkins, who played in the NBA from 1978-83 with the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz, Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers, also learned from his past coaches the importance of instilling confidence in his players. Two years ago, BYU led UConn in the second half of a Sweet 16 game before succumbing in the final 10 minutes.
"Another important thing [contributing to his success] is I've got some players that have been there," Judkins said. "They've played on these big stages, been in some big games. I guarantee Lexi wants to come out and play a lot better than she did against San Francisco. I think having an experienced point guard is really going to help this team with the pressure. And I know we are excited about going and playing. Hopefully we can play like we played all year."
No. 7 BYU vs. No. 10 Missouri
P NCAA Women's Tournament
At the Erwin Center, Austin, Texas
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. MDT
TV • ESPN2
About Jeff Judkins
• Has guided Cougars to eight NCAA Tournament appearances, including two trips to the Sweet 16, in 15 seasons
• Has posted 10 seasons of 20 or more wins
• Named conference's Coach of the Year four times (2005-06, 2006-07, 2010-11, 2015-16)
• Winningest coach in BYU women's basketball history with 331 career victories in 15 seasons