The BYU women’s basketball team started nicely and finished gamely against Gonzaga in the finals of the West Coast Conference tournament.
The middle? Now, that was a complete disaster.
The Cougars crumbled in a stretch of 21-plus minutes that doomed them to a 71-57 defeat Tuesday afternoon at the Orleans Arena.
That’s actually a very respectable score, considering how the Cougars performed offensively for much of the game. And there were some redeeming qualities of BYU’s effort, such as center Jennifer Hamson’s 24 points and the Cougars’ making all 21 of their free-throw attempts.
Beyond those numbers, there’s only badness — and a lot of it.
The Bulldogs played some aggressive defense and “we just didn’t handle it very well,” said BYU coach Jeff Judkins.
That’s an epic understatement. Hamson’s layup gave the Cougars an 8-6 lead with 15:52 remaining in the first half. Between that moment and the 14:18 mark of the second half, when Kim Beeston made a 3-pointer, BYU missed 20 of 21 shots from the field and committed 17 turnovers.
That’s hard to do, even if a very good opponent is involved. Asked whether BYU’s offense or Gonzaga’s defense played the bigger role, Hamson said it was “hard to tell which was which.” The answer is always a combination, but the Cougars clearly were off their game.
Subtracting the decent work of Hamson and Beeston, BYU made 3 of 30 shots. Sophomore guard Lexi Eaton, the team’s No. 2 scorer, went 2 of 18, missing her first 13 shots, and lost eight turnovers. Judkins pointed out Eaton’s shooting numbers in the postgame news conference, commenting, “That doesn’t help.”
Judkins also blamed himself for the way BYU failed to make extra passes and take enough advantage of Hamson’s inside presence.
The amazing aspect of it all is the Cougars gave themselves a tiny chance to win, cutting the lead to 50-40 on Hamson’s basket with 6:44 remaining. In the other 18-plus minutes of the game, before and after the horrible stretch, BYU shot nearly 50 percent and committed only four turnovers.
But the Bulldogs, who also struggled offensively for stretches of this game, righted themselves and never let BYU get any closer. Three Gonzaga starters shot a combined 2 of 17, but the Bulldogs had sufficient balance.
The result was outcome that looked a lot more like Gonzaga’s 68-42 win over BYU in early January than the Cougars’ 62-52 victory in the mid-February rematch in Provo. The Cougars (26-6) hope that showing will serve them well Monday, when the NCAA Tournament selections are announced.
Judkins spoke of BYU’s “excellent chance” of being picked, and the Cougars would love to apply the lessons they learned from Gonzaga against another good opponent in the NCAAs. Let’s just say that what BYU did Tuesday would be difficult to duplicate, and that’s the good news.