Paisley Harding, left, and Shaylee Gonzales embrace after the loss to Arizona on March 24 in San Antonio. The Cougars fell just short of a Sweet 16 appearance. (BYU Photo)

BYU women’s basketball loses to Arizona, 52-46, in second round of NCAA Tournament

The 11-seed BYU women’s basketball team fought hard against 3-seed Arizona but fell ultimately short, ending the Cougars’ NCAA Tournament run with a 52-46 loss on Wednesday in San Antonio.

“First of all, I want to congratulate Arizona,” BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. “It was a good fight tonight. Both teams fought very hard and were very physical. In games like this, it comes down right to the end and which team hits the big shot or makes the right play. I’m really proud of our team. This has been a hard season, but a really fun season. To be able to get this far and knock on the door and come close to making it to the Sweet 16 was really great for this team.”

Shaylee Gonzales led the team with 16 points and nine rebounds, and Tegan Graham came off the bench with 13 points. She was responsible for three of BYU’s five made 3-point field goals. Lauren Gustin had eight points and 11 rebounds to in the game.

Shaylee Gonzales shoots over an Arizona defender at the NCAA Tournament on March 24. Gonzales led the Cougars with 16 points in their final game of March Madness. (BYU Photo)

“Coming into the game we were all super excited. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew they would be tougher than Rutgers,” Gonzales said. “We knew we needed to be tough with the ball. Coming into the game, our team did great in the beginning. We were up four and we let them get in the game, unfortunately.”

Arizona’s Aari McDonald had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Cate Reese finished with 12 points.

The teams were tied at 37 in the beginning of the fourth quarter. BYU took an early lead, 43-39 on a jumper by Graham, followed by layups from Gustin and Gonzales.

“I looked up at the clock and, it’s very frustrating to have that lead and to lose it. But I am just so proud of my team and how we played today,” Gonzales said. “Lots of people overlooked us, lots of people thought that we didn’t deserve to be in this NCAA tournament, but I hope that these couple games really proved to everyone what kind of team we are. People thought we were the underdog, but we showed lots and lots of fight today.”

Harding announced after the game that she broke her hand against Rutgers on March 22 and played injured against Arizona.

Arizona went on an 8-0 run with two minutes left of the game to increase the lead to 47-43.

The ball was stolen from Gonzales in the last seconds for a fast break layup to end the game.

Paisley Harding drives against Arizona on March 24 in San Antonio. Harding announced after the game she played with a broken hand. (BYU Photo)

“This is what the NCAA is all about. What teams step up in the end and make plays,” Judkins said. “We are going to be back next year.”

He said that Arizona did a good job of hitting its threes at the end and that the team will work on being more aggressive on defense next year.

BYU led 25-23 at halftime on Kaylee Smilers’ 3-pointer to tie it up and Gonzales’ two made free throws to take the edge. Both teams fought equally throughout the game. BYU shot 35% from the field and Arizona shot 36%. BYU shot 28% from the 3-point line, as Arizona shot 26%.

Gonzales set the tone early with a block on a fast break opportunity for the Wildcats to begin the game. Midway through the first quarter, Sara Hamson picked up her second foul, forcing the Cougars to go small.

Arizona took care of the ball and only had nine turnovers. The Wildcats scored 20 points off of BYU’s 15 turnovers.

Jeff Judkins speaks to his team during a timeout on March 24 against Arizona. Judkins said the team will be back at the NCAA Tournament next year. (BYU Photo)

“I am just proud of them, everyone’s coming back and we are kind of excited about that,” Judkins said. “We kind of said it in the locker room, we are ready to go. We are ready to start it up. We’ve got lofty goals ahead of us next year. “

The NCAA will give all athletes who participated this season an extra year of eligibility, allowing all of the Cougars, including seniors Harding and Hamson and graduate transfer Graham, to run it back.

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