The BYU women’s basketball team stormed back from a 13-point deficit in the third quarter to defeat the Pepperdine Waves 68-63 in the West Coast Conference semi-final on March 11. The Cougars will advance to the WCC championship game tomorrow against an injury-riddled Gonzaga team that came into the tournament as the No. 1 seed.
“First of all, I want to give Pepperdine a lot of credit,” head coach Jeff Judkins said. “They had a super year. They improved so much since the first year we played them in Provo.”
Pepperdine entered following an 87-84 victory over No. 6 Pacific, led by WCC Player of the Year Yas Robinson-Bacote, who averaged 20.4 points for the Waves on the season. BYU guard Caitlyn Alldredge was tasked with guarding Robinson-Bacote in just her ninth start of the season.
Cougar guards Paisley Johnson and Shaylee Gonzales lead the early offensive charge with eight first half points, while Sara Hamson added six points and five blocks in the opening twenty minutes. BYU’s numerous pick-and-roll sequences were met with mixed results while the team took 13 fewer shots than the Waves.
With the Waves extending their lead early in the second quarter, redshirt junior Brenna Chase completed back-to-back layups to keep the Cougars within striking distance. Just minutes later, Alldredge came down with a defensive rebound and drove hard down the court, converting the fast break for two. Malia Bambrick hit a 3-pointer on the Waves’ trip back down the court as the shot clock expired, extending the Waves lead to six.
BYU responded with a 3 of its own as Johnson connected on a shot from the top of the arc, making it a one-possession game. Defensive rebounding proved to be the Cougar’s kryptonite in the first half, allowing 17 offensive rebounds as Pepperdine extended its lead back to six points before halftime.
Despite holding Pepperdine to just 35 percent shooting from the field, Pepperdine controlled the tempo around the rim, scoring 17 second-chance points in the first half. Robinson-Bacote led both teams with 18 points at the intermission as Pepperdine led 38-32.
Cue Paisley Johnson.
Johnson was the Cougars’ spark-plug, exploding for 12 points in the second half on perfect 3-point shooting and switching onto Robinson-Bacote on defense. Johnson shut down the talented scorer, holding her to 0 for 6 shooting from the field and just one point in a pivotal second half.
“She’s a big part of their team, obviously, she was the WCC Player of the Year and at halftime, I kind of just told the girls you got to lay on her and take her completely out of the game” Johnson said. “Juddy put me on her in the second half and I decided that she wasn’t going to touch the ball, just deny her.”
The Cougars briefly fell out of sync in the second half, trailing the Waves by as many as 13 points with 5:44 left in the third quarter. Johnson led the charge for a Cougar comeback, converting on a layup three minutes into the half, followed up by a Chase 3-pointer. Johnson again found the scoresheet after a 3-point play with 2:21 remaining in the third quarter, cutting the Pepperdine lead to 5. Shalae Salmon capped off a BYU 11-0 run with an and-one of her own, leaving the Cougars trailing by only two points heading into the final stanza.
Leaving it all on the floor, BYU outscored Pepperdine 18-11 in the fourth and final frame. The most pivotal moment of the quarter came with 4:58 remaining, when Johnson drove to the rim but missed the layup. Gonzales noticed an open lane and drove in for the rebound, putting back the layup for an and-one. She then hit the free throw, giving BYU a lead Pepperdine would never take back.
“Paisley was going down the floor and I really like going in for rebounds, I like being really aggressive,” Gonzales said. “My man turned and I was like, ‘She doesn’t see me,’ so I’m going to go after it and get it. I just grabbed it and I threw it up. I didn’t even know it went in.”
BYU is set to take on No. 12 Gonzaga in the WCC final for their third and final grudge match of the 2018-19 season. Of Gonzaga’s three losses on the season, two have come by BYU. Aside from its games against the Cougars, Gonzaga went undefeated in conference play. Tipoff for the WCC final is set for 1 p.m. Pacific Time on March 12 and can be watched on ESPNU and watch ESPN, while Greg Wrubell will be on the mic on BYU radio.