BYU’s historic season comes to an end in first round in NCAA Tournament

BYU women’s historic basketball season came to an abrupt end on Saturday.

No. 6-seeded BYU was upset by No.11 Villanova 61-57 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“This game will stay with me for a while, but as it gets going, I’ll look back and remember the good things we had this year,” BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said.

Turnovers set the teams apart as BYU lost the ball 16 times compared to Villanova’s nine. The Wildcats turned the 16 turnovers to 14 points.

“We made careless turnovers, which is us beating ourselves,” senior guard Paisley Harding said

To compound their ball-handling issues, the Cougars shot 39% from the field, nearly 8% off their season average of 46.7%. 

“These last three games were the worst we shot all year. You can’t do that when you get into tournaments,” Judkins said.

Maddy Siegrist, the second leading scorer in the nation, led Villanova in their upset bid with 25 points, including 19 in the second half.

WCC First-Teamer Harding led the way for the Cougs with 21 points. 

“She’s one of the best I’ve coached. She’s proven that in NCAA tournament games. I thought tonight she played one of her best games for us,” Judkins said.

As their career and season came to an end, Harding and fellow senior Sara Hamson reflected on what BYU meant to them.

“This whole experience, this whole season has meant everything to me, these girls are something special. I don’t think you can find another team in this nation that is as close, tight knit and loving as mine is,” Harding said

“There’s so much love on this team and I’m so full of gratitude for all the players and experiences I’ve had this year and the memories w’ve made,” Hamson said.

BYU huddles up during their 61-57 defeat in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Ann, Arbor, Michigan (BYU Photo)

The Cougars, who came in with the highest seed in program history, started their NCAA tournament run on the right foot.

Five quick points from Maria Albiero, and lock-down defense, which forced Villianova into 1-for-4 shooting and two turnovers, pushed BYU to a 10-2 lead. 

BYU kept their foot on the gas pedal coming out of a Villanova timeout as Harding hit an and-1 layup on a dish from WCC player of the year Shaylee Gonzales. Gonzales was the distributor early on as she dished out 4 assists midway through the first quarter, matching her season average of 4.3 assists per game.

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Villanova would eventually find their groove with three minutes left in the opening quarter as the Wildcats went on a 9-2 run to bring the deficit down to one possession. Kaitlyn Orihel came off the bench to orchestrate the run for the Wildcats with seven points.

The Big East runner ups would continue their run as they would take their first lead of the game early in the second quarter at 18-17. 

The teams would trade blows for the rest of the half as neither one was able to grab a lead larger than 3.

Harding led the Cougars in the second quarter. The WCC first teamer scored 11 of the Cougar’s 13 points in the quarter, including the last six points for BYU. 

A pair of Harding’s free throws put BYU up by the slimmest of margins at 30-29 heading into halftime

Both teams’ stars struggled to score in the first half. Villanova’s third-team All-American Maddy Siegrist, who usually averages 25.9 points per game, scored six points on 3-10 shooting. Gonzales missed her first four shots before scoring her only points off the half on a layup midway through the 2nd quarter.

Villanova would mount another run to grab the lead from this point. The Wildcats went on a 8-1 run to finish the quarter with a 44-41 lead. 

The Cougars would knot the score at 46 thanks to a Harding step-back 3-pointer and Lauren Gustin layup. 

Nova were quick to respond with a 7-0 run to put the score at 55-48, their largest lead of the game. Siegrist supernovaed in the second half as she scored 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting with 10 of those points coming in the 4th quarter.

The Cougars, with their season on the line, responded. A 7-3 run brought BYU to a 3-point deficit with just over a minute remaining.

Judkins switched to a zone to throw Villanova off their rhythm during the run, which is something he wish he done sooner. “I should of zoned earlier, at least to get them out of rhythm…the zone got them out of their motion and I probably should of done that more,” he said.

BYU whittled the lead down to one point and had the opportunity to hit a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime, but the initial deficit was too much to overcome as the Cougars.

Despite the loss, BYU finished one of their best seasons in program history with a 26-4 record and a WCC regular season title. 

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