BYU women’s hoops fends off Utah 85-80

BYU women’s basketball escaped a late comeback from rival Utah to win 85-80 Saturday evening in Salt Lake and protect their undefeated campaign.

The Cougars never trailed in the contest and led by as many as 21 in the third quarter, but Utah fired back with clutch shooting and effective defense to cut the deficit to just three points with 13 seconds remaining.With six seconds left, the Utes fouled Cougar point guard Shaylee Gonzales, who promptly sank two free throws to ice the game.

“We got tired mentally and physically,” head coach Jeff Judkins said in his first game back with the team since Nov. 17 following a COVID-related quarantine. “We thought they’d quit, but they kept fighting.”

Even amid the increased pressure, BYU’s confidence never wavered.“Utah played really good defense at the end, but I knew the whole time that we would win,” shooting guard Paisley Harding said.

Harding led the offensive charge with a career-high 33 points, 19 of which coming in the first quarter. The Cougars shot an eye-popping 59% from the field and 41% from deep, crossing the 80-point threshold for the fifth time this season.

“Paisley’s a hard matchup,” Judkins said. “It was her last time against Utah, so she wanted to play well here and knew she had to step up offensively.”

Utah’s 77 points were the most allowed by BYU’s defense on the yearā€” with the Utes even recording more rebounds and steals than the Cougarsā€” but ultimately BYU’s hot start and efficiency on offense made the difference in the rivalry track meet.

“If we had more depth we could have rested more people on defense which would have helped, but they’re the best offensive team we’ve played all year,” Judkins said of Utah. “They do a great job of spacing and they can really shoot it.”

In addition to Harding’s dominant performance, Gonzales added 22 points and seven assists of her own along with the late free throw heroics. Sara Hamson and Emma Calvert filled in for the absent Lauren Gustin with a combined 16 points, seven rebounds and five blocks, while Tegan Graham posted nine points and led the team with eight assists.

“Tegan is the best big passer in the country, she’s so smart,” Judkins said.

The No. 21 ranked Cougars move to 8-0 on the season and look ahead for a pair of Power-5 matchups against Oklahoma and Washington State over the next two weeks, hoping to fine tune their scheme before conference play tips off later this month.

“Our chemistry has been flowing for us all season, and it’s exciting,” Harding said.

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