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Austin, Texas • Leading scorer Lexi Rydalch and leading rebounder Kalani Purcell got the bulk of the attention as the BYU women's basketball team met the media on Friday in the buildup to the seventh-seeded Cougars' NCAA Tournament first-round game against No. 10 seed Missouri.
Missouri coach Robin Pingeton raved about the Cougars' dynamic duo and their ability to score points and grab rebounds. She said slowing down Rydalch, who averages 24.3 points per game, and Purcell, who grabs 12.7 rebounds per outing, will be tantamount to UM's success in the 4:30 p.m. MDT contest, the first meeting between the schools since 1997.
Nobody clad in black and gold mentioned the only other senior on BYU's roster besides Rydalch, point guard Kylie Maeda. And that's just fine with the 5-foot-5 Hawaiian, whom coach Jeff Judkins says he will miss as much as the high-scoring Rydalch.
"We're going to miss having her leadership, and what she does for this team," Judkins said. "She settles everybody down and she makes big shots when we need her to. She makes big plays. On and off the court, she is one of those players that you just need."
A three-year starter who will be playing in her third NCAA Tournament, Maeda has started all 32 games for the 26-6 Cougars this year and is averaging 5.9 points and 3.7 assists per game. She will have the ball in her hands more than any other Cougar as BYU faces an SEC opponent known for its tenacious defense and on-the-ball pressure.
"I have absolutely loved playing with Kylie my whole career," said Rydalch, who will be playing in her fourth tournament because she was a freshman on the 2011-12 team that lost 59-55 to DePaul in Chicago before she was forced to redshirt in 2012-13 due to a knee injury. "People don't realize how steady she is and how consistent she is every single game, and I think her legacy is going to be her leadership and her great shooting. She's done a lot of things people take for granted, and she's been a huge part of our success."
Judkins said when he recruited the non-LDS star from Iolani High in Oahu with a knack for hitting open shots and masterfully handling the ball he figured she might crack the starting lineup when she was a junior or senior.
"What a great career she's had here at BYU," Judkins said. "She's been a fun player to coach and I am going to miss her in a lot of ways. … I am really happy for her because this is her reward. Her reward is go to the Big Dance, because she doesn't shoot the ball as much as everybody else, and so winning is really what it is all about for her."
And to think she almost didn't get through her first year in Provo. Maeda admits to being "incredibly homesick" as a freshman as she adjusted to BYU's unique culture away from home and her family parents Lance and Eydie, older brothers Jared and Kelcey, and younger sisters Brooke and Tori.
"We are a really close family and it was hard not having them at my games, or being able to talk to my parents after my games," she said. "And then not playing a lot that first year was hard. The coaches and my teammates did a good job of keeping me focused and getting me to feel comfortable, and I am grateful for that."
Maeda said when BYU first contacted her, she had "no idea" what the school was all about, let alone the women's basketball program that was enjoying reasonable success under Judkins. Her parents played a big role in getting her to explore the opportunity, and they were impressed with the family atmosphere Judkins has established.
"I came on that visit, and it really opened my eyes," she said. "Just the whole family atmosphere is something that was really important to me and my family. I think we all knew it was a good fit here."
Maeda credits Haley Steed, one of the best point guards in school history, for showing her the ropes early in her career, and now she's helping groom sophomore Cassie Broadhead to take over.
"I hope I will be remembered as a hard worker," Maeda said. "I think I have gotten better since my freshman year, playing behind one of the best ever point guards here in Haley, and just always trying to get better. That's something that coach Judkins has always instilled in us, is just hard work always working hard and not being content with where you are.
"That's something that I've tried to take to heart."
And Provo has grown on her as well.
About Kylie Maeda
• Senior from Honolulu, Hawaii, has been a three-year starter in coach Jeff Judkins' program.
• Ranks 10th all-time on BYU's career assists list with 404.
• Is averaging 5.9 points and 3.7 assists for the 26-6 Cougars.
BYU vs. Missouri
P NCAA Tournament first-round game
Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas
Tipoff • Saturday, 4:30 p.m. MDT
TV • ESPN2 Radio • BYU Radio Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 26-6, Missouri 21-9
Series record • Missouri leads 5-0
Last meeting • Missouri 72, BYU 66 (Dec. 6, 1997)
About the Cougars • They are in the NCAA Tournament for the 12th time overall and eighth time in coach Jeff Judkins' 15 seasons. … They are led in scoring by senior guard Lexi Rydalch, the leading scorer in West Coast Conference history. She averages 24.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. … Makenzi Morrison Pulsipher is their second-leading scorer with a 12.7 average and Kalani Purcell is the leading rebounder with 12.7 caroms per game.
About the Tigers • They are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006 and the 10th seed in the Bridgeport (Conn.) Region. … Sophie Cunningham leads them in scoring with a 13.5 average and is 11th in the SEC in scoring. … They rank 20th nationally in free throw percentage (75.6) and 25th in rebounding margin (+7.6).