Paisley Harding looks to pass against Gonzaga. (BYU Women's Basketball)

BYU women’s basketball pounces back from potential pounding to defeat Gonzaga 62-50

It was one of those days for BYU women’s basketball where seemingly nothing was going their way. Shaylee Gonzales was scoreless in the first half, Paisley Harding exited the game after a brutal knee to the face and the team couldn’t sink a shot from downtown. The Cougars had officially seen their all-season low.

Or so we thought.

BYU fought, persevered and literally bled in an absolute battle for a 62-50 road victory over Gonzaga Saturday. The Cougars clawed their way out of a 15-point halftime deficit and climbed atop the West Coast Conference rankings with the win.

“It is tough to win here. Really tough to win,” BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said after the game.

BYU struggled to find any rhythm early as it started the game shooting just 2-of-7 from the floor and trailing 9-4 going into the first timeout. Lauren Gustin was the sole provider of points for the Cougars, knocking down both of the first two buckets. She finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Before Gonzaga could gain any real separation, Paisley Harding, who finished with 22 points, gave BYU a spark with six straight points, lifting the Cougars to double digits. But from that point on, the first half was all about the Zags. 

Junior guard Kayleigh Truong, who averages a team-high 11.2 points each contest, nailed the team’s fourth trey as the first quarter seconds expired to take a commanding 20-10 lead and heat the Zags up. The team shot a perfect 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the second quarter, two of which came from leading scorer Melody Kempton.

As if things couldn’t get any worse for an already bleeding BYU squad trailing by double digits, Harding took a shot to the eye during a loose-ball scramble and exited the game, leaving the Cougars with an even deeper wound.

Halftime couldn’t come sooner for the girls, and it proved to be exactly what the doctor ordered. Coming out of the break, the Cougars were back, and so was Harding. This time with a set of stitches and vengeance on her agenda. 

The next half proved to be the most important and impressive of BYU’s season, demonstrating the true grit that this team has. The Cougars scored early and throughout, going on a blazing 19-3 run to claim their first lead of the game going into the final quarter of play.

Defense was the absolute game-changer as the Cougars held the Zags to just 1-of-12 shooting during the third quarter. Harding stole the show on the offensive side of the ball, tacking on an additional 12 points to reach 22 on the game.

“Paisley is a big part of tonight’s win,” Judkins said. “Her toughness and coming back and playing is exactly what this team is. They were tough and when they play that way they are a very good team.”

The fourth quarter was all about maintaining the lead for BYU, and it did just that with help from Gonzales, who rallied late to score all 11 of her points in the final six minutes of play. Judkins gave Gonzaga a lot of credit for locking Gonzales down and praised their guards for keeping her from what she likes to do all game.

BYU chants rang through the Kennel in the final minutes of play, making a statement about the reach and popularity of this Cougar team.

“We still have a lot of games left,” Judkins said. “Gonzaga will have to come to our place and they play just as good on the road. That might decide who wins the conference. It will be exciting.”

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