Maria Albiero goes up for a layup against Gonzaga. (Decker Westenburg)

BYU women’s hoops slays Gonzaga 63-39 on senior night

If it wasn’t already clear, No. 20 BYU women’s basketball cemented their status as the greatest team in program history Saturday afternoon, blowing out Gonzaga 63-39 to clinch the de facto WCC regular-season title and mark 30 consecutive wins at the Marriott Center.

A record-breaking crowd of more than 6,000 fans were in attendance for BYU’s home finale, where the Cougars put on the same show that’s propelled them into the record books all season long: efficient, unselfish offense, commanding defensive effort, timely 3-point shooting and boundless energy from start to finish.

“Today you saw what this team is all about,” head coach Jeff Judkins said. “This is how this team is built and this is how this team plays.”

The Cougars didn’t just beat the Zags— for the final three quarters, they toyed with them. Over the second and third periods, BYU outscored Gonzaga 39-13, and the hysterical Marriott Center faithful couldn’t get enough.

Simply put, it’s as if BYU has come down from a higher league. The dream season that Judkins and company imagined when the Cougars brought back their quartet of fifth-year seniors shattered all expectations and became one of the most magical campaigns for any sport in school history.

Gonzaga led 12-11 at the end of the first quarter, only for the Cougar defense to respond with a smothering second frame in allowing just five points and a lone field goal to the Zags, pulling away for a lead they’d never surrender.

Shaylee Gonzales padded her All-American resume with 21 points, five rebounds and a pair of steals, while Paisley Harding added 16 points and a season-high seven assists. Rebound master Lauren Gustin grabbed 13 boards, and senior guard tandem Tegan Graham and Maria Albiero combined for 14 points and seven assists.

Led by Sara Hamson and Gustin’s elite rim protection, BYU’s defense forced 15 turnovers, swiped 10 steals, swatted four blocks and capitalized for 20 points from turnovers, holding Gonzaga 30 points below their season point average.

The Cougars weren’t putting up these video game numbers against some random high school team— this Gonzaga squad was ranked second in the conference and even led BYU by 15 at halftime in their previous matchup in Spokane. Then again, the Cougars clawed back to win that game by 12 before Saturday’s 24-point victory margin.

The Cougars have become a living, breathing hyperbole, elevating their play throughout the season while proving capable of beating anyone in the country. Of their 23 wins, Saturday against the Zags marked BYU’s 13th victory by more than 20 points and eighth occasion allowing 50 or fewer points.

BYU heads on the road for two final regular-season contests before the WCC tournament in Las Vegas beginning March 7.

As the senior night festivities came to a close on the court, Harding’s mother grabbed the microphone to ignite a “10 more games” chant among the remaining crowd, fueling more fire to BYU’s standard post-practice “Final Four” chant.

For this squad, “10 more games” is becoming more realistic each day.

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