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Cougars return to basketball's 'Big Dance'

PROVO, UTAH

Brigham Young University’s women’s basketball team began the 2014-2015 season with understandably high hopes. After all, the team was coming off a season where the Cougars made it to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen before losing to eventual national champion Connecticut.

Those hopes took an early hit. The team dropped a season opening exhibition game to Utah’s Westminster College, then lost two of their next three games.

The Cougars returned to their winning ways with a Nov. 22 victory over Nevada. They finished the season with a 23-9 record that included dramatic victories in the March 9 West Coast Conference tournament semifinals over top-seeded Gonzaga and, a day later, in the tournament final against San Francisco.

As the conference tournament champions, BYU earned an automatic bid in the 2015 NCAA tournament. The 14th-seeded Cougars will play 3rd-seeded Louisville on March 21 in Tampa, Florida. The game will mark the program’s second straight appearance in college basketball’s “Big Dance,” and its sixth straight postseason tournament.

“I think the team likes a challenge,” Coach Jeff Judkins told the Deseret News. “They’re not afraid. I think they showed that last year with UConn. We know if we come out and play, and do what we need to do, that we can stay with anybody.”

The Cougars are a diverse squad. The players hail from a variety of states — including New York, Florida, Hawaii, California and Utah. Many are Church members. Others are not. But the team’s unexpected return to the NCAA tournament is evidence of its unity and purpose.

Senior forward Morgan Bailey was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, while junior guard Lexi Eaton earned all-conference awards.

BYU’s men’s basketball team also returned this season to the NCAA national basketball tournament.

The Cougars finished with a 25-10 record following their March 17 first- round loss of 94-90 to Mississippi. BYU led by as many as 17 points in the game, but a strong second half by Ole Miss put an end to the Cougar season.

The men’s team has played in the NCAA tournament eight times in the last nine seasons.

[email protected] @JNSwensen

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