The BYU women’s team fell to Gonzaga 71-57 in the WCC Championship game Tuesday afternoon after not being able to fully dig itself out of a hole filled with missed shots and turnovers.
The Cougars started hot, when WCC Player of the Year Jennifer Hamson scored the first eight points of the game for the Cougars, pounding it inside to the rim. But Gonzaga changed its style of defense and forced BYU to slow down its pace of game and created more turnovers.
“It’s tough to come in here after losing a game, and your team didn’t play their best,” said BYU head coach Jeff Judkins. “You’ve got to give Gonzaga a lot of credit for that. There were seven or eight minutes there that we didn’t handle it well, and that was the difference in the game.”
After Kim Beeston made a jumper at the 9:07 mark in the first half, BYU went on a scoring drought of 14:49 extending through the second half without making a field goal. Hamson said Gonzaga played more aggressive defense, but the BYU players just weren’t able to make shots.
“(Gonzaga) picked up their defense, and we kind of relaxed a bit on our offense,” she said. “We couldn’t get into our offense as easily, and we were kind of lacking on that end.”
The only other points in the first half came from Lexi Eaton, who hit four free throws. The Cougars shot a dismal 20.8 percent from the floor on 5-24 shooting in the first 20 minutes, as the Bulldogs cruised to a 30-14 halftime lead.
Beeston’s 3-pointer at the 14:18 mark in the second half put an end to the field goal drought. But Gonzaga didn’t let up, reaching its largest lead of the game of 20 about halfway through the second half.
However, the Cougars found some offensive rhythm, going on a 15-5 run to cut the lead to 10. Hamson scored 10 of those points, while Beeston scored the other five. Gonzaga subbed in almost an entirely different lineup and responded to the BYU run by going on its own 11-3 run to put the lead back up to 18 with just less than four minutes to play.
“I’m proud of our team for coming back in the second half,” Judkins said. “We had flashes of how we played all season. This team will learn. We have some more basketball ahead of us this year.”
Hamson scored 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the loss, while Eaton added 15 points but struggled to score from the floor, shooting just 2-18. Eaton, however, made all 11 of her free throw attempts, part of a record-setting 21-21 from the line for the Cougars. Beeston contributed 12 points and made the only two 3-pointers for BYU.
Gonzaga was led by WCC Tournament MVP Sunny Greinacher, who scored 16 points and pulled down seven rebounds while slowing down Hamson on the defensive end. Keani Albanez scored 20, and Lindsay Sherbert added 15.
Now the Cougars will await a hopeful at-large bid in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, which will be selected on Monday, March 17. The BYU team feels it has done enough to be playing in the field of 68.
“We’ve played really well this year,” Hamson said. “We’ve had a tough schedule. We beat Gonzaga and played well in our conference. They’ve just got to let us play.”