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Austin, Texas • Except for a couple of untimely stumbles at the end of the regular season and in the West Coast Conference championship game, BYU's women's basketball team dominated its league in 2015-16. The Cougars won the WCC by two games, compiled a 16-game winning streak and supplanted Gonzaga as the conference's top program, at least for now.
But coach Jeff Judkins' team was far from perfect, evidenced by its 78-69 loss to Missouri on Saturday night in an NCAA Tournament first-round game. The coach outlined his team's deficiencies fairly well in his postgame comments, saying the Cougars lacked a reliable inside presence and overall size and depth.
"They are not happy, I know," Judkins said after the Cougars were outscored 12-5 in the final two minutes. "But we are going to work hard and this will be a great opportunity for us to motivate ourselves next year. We have a lot of good [players] coming back, especially [rising seniors Kalani Purcell and Makenzi Pulsipher], and we'll be ready to go."
The Cougars will lose the second-leading scorer in school history, Lexi Rydalch, and steady point guard Kylie Maeda, a three-year starter. Both will be difficult to replace, especially Rydalch, whose effectiveness in the WCC championship game loss to San Francisco and Saturday's setback was limited by foul trouble.
"Next year I need to get my bigs (playing) better," Judkins said, noting that Purcell had to play power forward a lot when her natural position is probably small forward. "I could have put Kalani on [Sophie Cunningham], and she wouldn't have posted her up at all like she did Lexi tonight. She wouldn't be physical. Next year I'm going to really get my team better that way where I can do those kind of lineups."
For starters, Judkins will have Purdue transfer Haley Bodnar available to play next year. The 6-foot-3 center from St. George will likely push rising sophomore Jasmine Moody and rising senior Micaelee Orton for playing time. Junior-to-be Cassie Broadhead, 5-foot-9, will replace Maeda with a bigger frame, but hasn't shown the 5-5 Maeda's ability to hit big shots.
Judkins said schools in the power conferences "are way more physical with their guards," than WCC schools, and BYU will have to improve in that area to make another NCAA Tournament run, like it did in 2014.
Judkins hopes Rydalch's scoring will be replaced by her sister, Maple Mountain High product Liz Eaton, a 5-9 guard who suffered a season-ending knee injury before the 4A state tournament last month.
"Liz is like her sister: a very tough, athletic, hard-working player," Judkins said. "She's a good defender, shooter and rebounder."
The Cougars also signed Brenna Chase, a 5-9 guard from Thornton, Colo., and Shalae Salmon, a 6-3 forward from New Zealand who is slightly taller than fellow countrywoman Purcell and the potential post player that was lacking this season.
Another November signee was Jessica Chatman, the sister of BYU men's basketball player Jordan Chatman and daughter of former BYU great Jeff Chatman. Jessica Chatman, a 6-foot forward, recently returned from an LDS Church mission to Lansing, Mich., and originally signed in 2013. She can play four positions, Judkins said.
"Her versatility will add to our depth as a team," Judkins said.
Versatility and depth the Cougars could have used on Saturday.
Graduating players • G Lexi Rydalch, G Kylie Maeda
Key returnees • F Kalani Purcell (Jr.) F Jasmine Moody (Fr.), G Makenzi Pulsipher (Jr.), G Cassie Broadhead (Soph.), F Micaelee Orton (Jr.), F Amanda Wayment (Soph.)
Newcomers • C Haley Bodnar, G Liz Eaton, G Brenna Chase, F Shalae Salmon, F Jessica Chatman