By Hillary Wallace
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Senior guard Erin Thorn nailed a game-winning three pointer with two seconds left in overtime to give BYU a 66-64 win against UNLV.
Thorn finished the game with a season-high 34 points and added six assists to carry the Cougars to the semifinal game of the Mountain West Conference tournament. BYU will face rival Utah Friday at 12 p.m.
“I trust my team, but I trust myself with the ball in my hands,” Thorn said. “We”re lucky it bounced to me and bounced in.”
Sophomore forward Danielle Cheesman attacked the Rebels” defense early scoring six points in the first four minutes of the game.
BYU held an early 11-8 lead, but UNLV”s Sherry McCracklin countered with six points inside during that stretch.
Coach Jeff Judkins said the Rebels pressed BYU defensively the whole game. He said he expected pressure in the first half and told the guards to push the ball inside to Cheesman.
“We haven”t been pressured like that for a long time,” Judkins said. “Danielle did a good job of getting down the court early.”
BYU put its own pressure on the Rebels, holding the MWC”s leading scorer Constance Jinks to 0-4 shooting from the field in the first half. Jinks finished the game with 10 points and shot 4-17 from the field.
“If she comes out and scores 30, they win,” Thorn said. “I had to get a hand on every shot.”
The Cougars continued to feed the ball into Cheesman because the Rebels limited Thorn”s first-half numbers. Thorn finished the first half with only six points. The Rebels led 30-26 at the half.
Cheesman and Thorn opened the second half with back-to-back buckets tying the score at 30. The quickness of the Rebels” guards helped UNLV convert BYU”s turnovers into fast-break points.
A technical foul called on McCracklin gave BYU some needed momentum as Thorn knocked down a set of free throws. With time winding down on the shot clock, Thorn tied the score again at 39 with an off-balance shot inside.
The rest of the second half belonged to Thorn as she scored 10 straight points in five minutes of play. Several lead changes occurred as both teams stepped to the free-throw line. Jinks nailed two free throws with two minutes left and Thorn tied the score at 50 with another pair of free throws with 2:16 on the clock.
With 30 seconds left, BYU junior guard Kestlee Nelson hit a three-pointer that appeared to be the game winner giving the Cougars a 54-52 lead. But McCracklin nailed two more free throws to tie the score after a foul by BYU junior Ashleigh Chamberlain who fouled out with 17 seconds left. Jinks missed a jumper at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
Thorn took control in overtime scoring 10 of BYU”s 12 points, including the game winner with two seconds left.
“Erin has always done that,” Judkins said. “Tonight she had to do a lot of things. She wanted the ball.”
Judkins said the Cougars need to rest tomorrow in order to have energy for their game against rival Utah in the semifinal match-up Friday March 14.