Undoubtedly, the women’s basketball team BYU boasts one of the best rear venues in the country.
Senior Paisley Harding and sophomore Sheila Gonzalez led the Cougars to a 23-2 record, No. 19 in The Associated Press Top 25 and No. 9 in the NCAA NET rankings. BYU is projected as the No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Cougars, who are traveling to Santa Clara and the Pacific this week to complete the regular season, are on the face of completion regular West Coast Conference Championship.
Gonzalez is averaging 18.8 points per team and 4.5 assists per game. She hits 52% off the floor and recorded 58 interceptions in the team.
Harding averaged 16.9 points and threw 47% off the field, and she had 42 interceptions.
Coach Jeff Judkins feels happy to have this pair of dynamic full guards.
“Paisley is moving so well without the ball. Sheila has more ball in her hands. But they are very close to the same. For me, because of this, it is a nightmare to protect them, ”he said. “Paisley is probably the best pull-up game of all I’ve coached. Sheila is the best swimmer. She can shove it in there better than I’ve ever seen. It’s automatic.
“These two have a good average game. Many have a good jumper or they drive into the basket. When you get a middle game, it’s hard to protect you because you can do so many things when you go to the basket, ”he continued. “I keep telling them they’re the best all-around at the conference. They can defend, they can kill, they can pass, they can fight back. They do it all. That’s what makes our team so strong. “
Harding and Gonzalez are two of the best in the history of the program. Harding scored 1,824 career points, which is 5th in the history of the program, and Gonzalez is 10th on the list for all time with 1,476 career points.
Assistant coach Melanie Day said Harding and Gonzalez possess at least a few qualities that distinguish them.
“They are competitors. They have such fierce competition. They want to win. They will do everything necessary and they are ready to invest in the work, ”she said. “They both put in a lot of work out of training and out of season. In the summer they work with their own coaches. That’s what separates them. They are competitors. They want to win. They are also very tough. “
In recent weeks, Gonzalez and Harding have once again demonstrated their competitiveness and toughness.
On February 5 in Gonzaga Harding pressed his face to his knees, leaving stitches in the first half. During the break, “Cougars” fell behind with a score of 35-20. Harding is back, and in the second half she helped lead an impressive comeback that led to BYU’s 62-50 victory.
Of course, Harding has played with injuries before.
During the NCAA tournament last season, the Cougars did not reach Sweet 16, and Harding played with a broken arm. BYU still nearly beat Arizona, which eventually lost in the NCAA Championship game.
Cougars can only wonder how far they would have gone if Harding had been completely healthy.
On February 12, Gonzalez scored a career-high 35 points and made seven interceptions, leading in the decisive fourth quarter in BYU’s 84-69 victory at St. Mary’s.
During her career, Gonzalez also overcame injuries.
In the summer of 2019, just after a stellar freshman season, Gonzalez received a torn PKS and right knee meniscus, forcing her to miss the entire 2019-2020 campaign.
In a way, Judkins said, playing without Gonzalez this season has helped Harding improve his game.
“When Shailey was hurt, Paisley appreciated Shailey when she was gone. She got her a lot of light baskets. That year helped Paisley because it helped her be more aggressive in the offensive and do more things. Thanks to that, she became the best player, ”Jadkins said. “The same thing happened to Kim Parker after Lexi Ethan tore up PKS. This made Kim better. It was so nice to have a child like Paisley, who started three years old and is now a fourth. She doesn’t need to talk much. She goes out and does what she needs to do. ”
Of course, Harding and Gonzalez complement each other in ways that are hard to defend.
Last year Gonzalez had another great season after recovering from a knee injury. But this season she was even better.
“Last year it was probably 90%. This year her knee is feeling better. Most of it is mental. She was great last year, but she was thinking about things, ”Judkins said. “It’s okay. It will take some time to get out of this. This year she is more like herself. She’s moving better and I don’t think she’s that nervous. She plays more like herself. She had a great year last year. She is special. ”
After the Cougars were knocked out in Arizona in an NCAA tournamentGonzalez sat in the locker room, soaring.
“She was so crazy. She was not sad. This has not happened yet. She was so crazy and she wanted to get back from there, ”Day recalled. “She talked to me about how she wants to get back there. She kept saying, “We need to move on next year.” There was no time to be bored. She wanted to return immediately. “
For more than 20 years at BYU Judkins had the privilege of coaching excellent guards.
This season he has two in this category.
“A coach sometimes only gets one or two in his coaching career,” Judkins said. “I’m very lucky to have a few.”