Paisley Harding drives past defenders to the basket against Fresno State. (BYU Photo)

BYU women’s basketball cruises to 80-64 win over Fresno State

BYU’s dynamic duo of guards Shaylee Gonzales and Paisley Harding each scored 22 points to lead the Cougars to an 80-64 victory over Fresno State at the Marriott Center on Saturday.

The Cougars claimed the lead with just over six minutes remaining in the first quarter and never looked back, controlling every aspect of the game against the Mountain West’spreseason favorite Bulldogs. Jeff Judkins’ crew grabbed more rebounds, dished out more assists, powered more points in the paint and shot for higher percentages than Fresno State, but it was their effort on defense that Judkins believed paid the highest dividends.

“We won this game because of defense,” Judkins said. “I thought our trapping was definitely a key tonight.”

The Bulldogs ran a heavy diet of on-ball screens, which the Cougars energetically smothered with quick hands en route to 10 steals. BYU forced a total of 13 turnovers and had seven blocks on the night, scoring 19 points from their takeaways.

“We were very efficient on the defensive side,” Harding said. “We all knew what we were doing and we all knew we needed to help on the backside.”

The Cougars struggled to find any rhythm in their early deep shooting, starting the night shooting a paltry 1-of-9 on 3-point tries in the first half. In the third quarter, Harding drained three straight shots from beyond the arc, kicking off a half where BYU would make 53.8 percent of their threes down the stretch.

“That’s Paisley, it’s what she does,” Judkins said.“We did a better job of being ready to shoot when the ball came in the second half. We weren’t ready to shoot earlier.”

Harding had been fruitless on deep shots in the first half, but she credited her teammates for pushing her to keep taking advantage of scoring chances.

The whole first half, Lauren (Gustin) was telling me to keep shooting, and to me that means so much to know that my teammates have confidence in me and have my back,” Harding said.

Harding and Gonzales combined for 44 points, with Gonzales adding five rebounds, four steals and two blocks as well.

“They’re special players,” Judkins said of the veteran guard tandem.

Gustin posted a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Tegan Graham and Maria Albiero dished out eight assists each and combined for 10 points together.

“It’s just our team doing what we know we can do,” Gustin said.“Everyone can score, everyone’s a threat and we did really well at getting the ball to the hot shooters tonight.”

Following a pair of opening week wins at home, the Cougars turn to face Arizona State this Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 11 a.m. in another early non-conference test.

“They’re gonna really pressure us, so we’ll need to be really strong with the ball and make good decisions,” Judkins said.

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