By CLAIRISSA PETT
LAS VEGAS — BYU’s women’s basketball team rolled the dice and came up with snake eyes in the City of Lights Wednesday, losing to Southern Methodist University 75-60 in the quarterfinal round of the WAC Tournament.
Lady Luck left early for the upset-minded Cougars, who defeated top-ranked Utah in last year’s WAC quarterfinals but couldn’t overcome the second-seeded Mustangs and their aggressive all-around game this year. SMU combined a solid rebounding performance with a brilliant perimeter game to defeat the Cougars in what turned out to be BYU’s final game of the season.
On paper, the game was an even matchup. Both teams sported similar records — both entered with 16 wins — and commendable high-low abilities. However, what the numbers didn’t show was that the Mustangs (17-10, 12-3) were hiding a full flush behind their backs.
SMU is riding a momentum tidal wave that any team would envy — winning 10 of its last 11 games — and has had plenty of rest in the process. With a first-round bye, the Mustangs haven’t played since last Saturday, compared to BYU’s four games in the last seven days, which may account for the lackluster second half it turned in Wednesday.
SMU out-rebounded BYU 28-14 in the second half, pulling down 12 offensive boards in the process. And the Cougars 37 percent shooting in the second half didn’t help much either.
“We were limiting (BYU) to just one shot,” SMU coach Rhonda Rompola said. “That took them out of the flow of the game.”
But despite the lopsided score, BYU was able to stay close for a majority of the contest. Down 23-15 in the first half, the Cougars closed the deficit to one after Lori Henry-Cuff drained a pair of clutch free throws with 3:48 remaining. But that was as close as it got.
After that, SMU took advantage of BYU’s zone and went on an 8-4 run that put it up 33-26 at the break.
“BYU was taking our post players out of the game for a while,” Rompola said. “When BYU went into a zone, we got a little tentative on offense. Then we started hitting our threes and that gave us confidence.”
BYU rallied once more in the second half when Cady Williams posted an outside jumper at 13:12 that put the Cougars within three, 40-37. But that was answered immediately by two treys from SMU guard Karen Blair that widened the Mustang’s lead to nine.
“We were able to keep (SMU) at bay for the first half,” BYU coach Trent Shippen said. “The biggest difference was rebounds. They got a lot of easy shots off of those.”
In the next eight minutes, SMU outscored the Cougars 17-10 to go ahead 65-48 — its largest lead of the game.
“We could’ve moved the ball more inside and out, but we just couldn’t adjust and our shots were limited,” Henry-Cuff said.
With the second-round elimination, BYU finished its season 16-12 overall and 9-6 in the conference.
However, the Cougars may not be leaving empty handed. BYU may still have a chance at an NIT berth later this month. Shippen expressed interest in the NIT when it called the team two weeks ago.