The BYU women's basketball team celebrates after upsetting Rutgers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Texas. BYU plays Arizona on Wednesday, March 24 in the second round. (BYU Photo)

11-seed BYU women’s basketball defeats 6-seed Rutgers 69-66 in first upset of NCAA Tournament

The BYU women’s basketball team made a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Rutgers 69-66 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday and continue on in March Madness.

“First, I want to congratulate Rutgers. I think that’s the best team we have played all year,” BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. “They are very well coached and very disciplined in what they do. Tonight the ball bounced our way, especially at the end, and that’s what basketball is about, especially in the NCAA Tournament. When the ball comes out your way, it makes a big difference.”

Paisley Harding dominated with 28 points, followed by Shaylee Gonzales with 17 points and Lauren Gustin with 10 points.

“We all just came together as a team and told each other that we were going to win this game, and that we need to fight,” Gonzales said. “We just told each other that we have each other’s backs. I know that I can count on every single one of them.”

Rutgers senior and WNBA prospect Arella Guirantes finished with 30 points and freshman Diamond Johnson had 13 points for the Scarlet Knights.

Judkins said Harding is a complete player, but everyone on the floor made a play to help the team win.

“If you know Paisley she is very competitive and she’s been waiting for this opportunity for a long time,” Judkins said. “People don’t give her enough credit for her athleticism, and what she can do, and I thought today she went to the basket very good. She was kind of the person we went to when we needed a basket, and she came through.”

Paisley Harding drives against Arella Guirantes in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday. Harding led BYU with 28 points in a comeback victory. (BYU Photo)

The Cougars managed to keep it close for most of the game, but ended each period behind the Scarlet Knights, including a 30-24 deficit at halftime. Rutgers maintained its lead in the second half by winning the third quarter 20-19.

BYU started the fourth quarter down by seven, 50-43, and then trailed by as many as 12 early in the final period.

Then the comeback began.

Harding closed the gap to three, 54-51, with seven minutes to go with an and-one and 3-pointer. She led all players with four triples in the game.

Harding went back to the free throw line and made both free throws to put BYU down by just one, 54-53.

Gustin gave BYU its first lead of the game, 55-54, from a second-chance bucket. Harding drew an offensive foul on Rutgers and Gustin went to the line on the other side and hit both free throws to make it 57-54 BYU. In all, the Cougars managed to go on a 12-0 run in the fourth quarter.

BYU took a timeout with 2:03 left of the game after the Scarlet Knights made a jumper to close the gap to one, 59-58.

Tegan Graham sunk a three on a fast break and gave the Cougars a four-point lead 62-58, but then Rutgers hit a three of its own to keep the one-point game, 62-61.  

Gonzales was fouled at the 3-point line from a baseline play with 30 seconds left of the game. She made all three free throws to extend the lead to 65-61. She was then fouled again after a layup from Rutgers and made both free throws to make it 67-63 with 24.1 seconds left. Gonzales went 10-of-11 from the charity stripe in the game.

“It all comes with confidence. I told myself I was making those shots and that those shots were big time and I knew I needed to make all of those to win the game,” Gonzales said. “I wouldn’t have done it without my teammates.”

Paisley Harding and BYU celebrate following a big play against Rutgers on March 22 in San Marcos, Texas. The Cougars became the first team to upset a higher seed at the tournament. (BYU Photo)

Rutgers’ Liz Martino made a three to close the gap, 68-66, with 3.8 seconds left and Harding went to the free-throw line with 1.3 seconds left. She missed one and BYU led 69-66.

The Scarlet Knights were unable to get a shot off before the final buzzer, however, and the Cougar celebration began.

“I got my teammates and I told them we are not having a game like Gonzaga,” Gonzales said. “There is no way we are letting them win on a game-winning shot. We need to focus and buckle down.”

BYU will play next on Wednesday, March 24, against 3-seed Arizona.

“We are not letting down,” Gonzales said. “We are going into the next game and have the attitude that we are winning and we aren’t letting down.”

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