Paisley Harding celebrates a basket against Gonzaga on Feb. 18. The Cougars protected home court and beat No. 16 Gonzaga in the Marriott Center. (Preston Crawley)

BYU women’s basketball stays undefeated at home with upset win over No. 16 Gonzaga

The BYU women’s basketball picked up its sixth-straight win 61-56 in a hard-fought battle against No. 16 Gonzaga at the Marriott Center on Thursday. The Cougars are still undefeated at home this season at 8-0.

“I’m very proud of this team,” BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. “This game has always been like this. Both of us compete so hard. Gonzaga is a very good team and they make it difficult. Tonight I felt that our bench and their bench were pretty equal, but we just made some plays at the end that got us the win. It was a great team effort.”

Shaylee Gonzales made a buzzer-beater three at the end of the third quarter that gave the team the energy they needed to pull together and come out with the win down the stretch.

“It’s a dog fight,” Judkins said. “It’s a game you look forward to.”

BYU was up 10 in the fourth quarter but then Gonzaga brought it back within one in the final minute. Paisley Harding drove hard into the paint and made a clutch shot to barely beat the clock and out BYU up by three, 59-56, with 13 seconds left on the clock.

“I knew I needed to attack,” Harding said of her go-ahead shot.

The game was tied five times as both teams went back and forth over the course of the game.

“This win is huge for us,” Gonzales said. “After we played Gonzaga the first time, we told ourselves that we don’t lose at home and we were going to beat Gonzaga at home. We really locked down because we wanted to fight and win this game.”

Gonzales had 16 points and seven assists, Harding finished with 12 points, and Laruen Gustin and Sara Hamson each had 10 points. Mara Albeiro finished with six.

“Tonight was a team effort,” Gonzales said. “We looked so good together, working the ball around, everyone hitting shots, fighting for each other, playing tough defense – we played an amazing game tonight.”

Shaylee Gonzales dribbles against Gonzaga on Feb. 18 in the Marriott Center. Gonzales led the Cougars with 16 points in the win. (Preston Crawley)

BYU shot 49% from the field as a team and the Zags shot 38%. The battle down low was close, with BYU barely edging out Gonzaga in points in the paint 26-24.

“Winning against Gonzaga, with such a routinely competitive and amazing program, it only benefits us in the end, and we are now potentially in the running to win the conference title, and that is so exciting,” Harding said.  “It has been a goal of ours all season.”

BYU started the game out fast and strong, scoring the first eight points to Gonzaga’s two, and at the end of the first quarter, the score was tied at 12.

BYU was trailing 31-30 at the half, but took the lead early in the third quarter, 38-35, on threes from Gonzales and Harding.

Gonzaga came back and claimed a 41-38 lead. Gonzales tied the game once again for BYU at 41 on a pair of free throws with a minute left in the third quarter. She then hit the buzzer-beater to give the Cougars a 47-43 lead heading into the final period.

BYU came out firing to open the fourth quarter, getting out to the game’s largest lead of 10 points, 55-45. The Bulldogs fought back to make it a three-point game at 55-52, before a backdoor reverse layup by Gonzales put the Cougars back in front by five. 

Gonzaga made it a one-point game with 44.4 seconds remaining, but Harding hit a driving left-handed layup with 13.7 seconds remaining to give BYU a three-point advantage. After getting a stop and forcing a jump ball, BYU got the ball back and Harding knocked down a pair of free throws to ice the game for the Cougars, who would go on to win 61-56. 

“We win at home. Point blank. Period,” Harding said.

The BYU women’s basketball team celebrates an upset win over No. 16 Gonzaga at home. BYU is undefeated at home this season at 8-0. (Preston Crawley)
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