The BYU women’s basketball team looked sharp and bright as it stepped onto the court on Saturday against the University of San Diego, sporting pink attire for breast cancer awareness. Maybe it was the pink, maybe it was the bitter loss Thursday, maybe it was the crowd of 1,129 people — whatever the reason the Cougars came out fierce and on fire.
Things started out rough for BYU as it played a zone defense, something that BYU coach Jeff Judkins usually doesn’t favor.
“I’ve got to give my coaches a lot of credit for this one,” Judkins said. “The zone defense wasn’t my idea, it was theirs. They told me before the game and during the game that with a certain lineup we needed to go zone and I’m not a zone coach but I thought that really helped us tonight. It slowed them down from driving and made them have to hit shots from the outside and I think that was the key to the game tonight.”
The team played tough defense trying to shut down USD’s shooting skills. BYU (11-3 West Coast Conference) did what it does best and pushed the ball quick and hard up the court, trying to throw off USD (10-4). The Cougars were successful as they came out with a 64-50 win.
Early on, the Cougars were behind when sophomore Stephanie Vermunt hit a 3-pointer. After that, senior Haley Steed hit one from beyond the arc to give BYU a one-point lead.
“This was pretty much our season; if we had lost this game it would’ve been really hard to turn it around,” senior Kristen Riley said. “It was a huge game, and we knew that.”
The game continued to be uptempo and the score was neck and neck. Steed was on fire taking 3s, driving to the hoop and giving it her all. She had 14 points, five assists and shot 4-for-8 from beyond the arc. She became the second all-time assist leader at BYU with 518.
Riley was no stranger to the score board with 12 points, 13 rebounds and shot 3-of-5 from the free throw line. She played the game to win.
The half-time buzzer sounded and USD tied up the score 26-26.
“After halftime we wanted to come out strong and throw the first punch,” freshman Lexi Eaton said.
One assist from Steed to Eaton put the team in the lead by one point again. Eaton got under the basket and contributed 11 points and had her game face on defense. She gave BYU the game momentum by attacking the net which changed the game. The fans were loud and proud as noise and cheering echoed throughout the Marriott Center.
“Lexi is a very explosive player and she does something that this team really needs,” Judkins said. “I thought she came in and gave us a really good spark and made some really nice moves.”
Sophomore Jennifer Hamson got aggressive and with her uneven matchup contributed 14 points. The Cougars gained a strong lead and shut out the Torreos for a 7:25 stretch.
“Your true character sometimes in life is when you get knocked to the ground,” Judkins said. “Do you get up or do you stay there?”
The team played hard and came out with a win, putting them in the No. 2 position in the WCC.
“We got our confidence back,” Riley said. “San Francisco was a tough one, especially another game against Santa Clara and then going to Gonzaga we’ve got to have a lot of confidence going into those two games. We’ve got to be ready for them.”