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Gonzaga routs BYU women in WCC championship game

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BYU's Lexi Eaton, left, scrambles for a loose ball against Gonzaga's Haiden Palmer in the first half of the NCAA West Coast Conference women's tournament championship college basketball game, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

By Jay Drew

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Mar 11 2014 01:11PM
Updated Mar 11, 2014 11:32PM

Las Vegas • If the BYU women’s basketball team fails to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament when the selections are announced Monday, it will have 21 hellish minutes in Las Vegas to blame.

Using some ferocious defensive pressure that forced 17 turnovers and limited the Cougars to just one field goal in a stretch that lasted more than 21 minutes, top-seeded Gonzaga routed BYU 71-57 on Tuesday in the West Coast Conference women’s championship game in front of 7,898 at Orleans Arena.

"They came out and really pressured us and locked into us … and we didn’t handle it very well," BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. "And that was the difference."

The Cougars fell to 26-6 and will have to wait six agonizing days to find out if they are going to the big dance or will have to settle for the NIT for the second straight year. It was the fifth tournament title in the last six years for Gonzaga (29-4), which won the rubber match after the teams split their regular-season games.

This time, the Zags left no doubt, racing to a big halftime lead with a defensive show of power that left the Cougars in a state of disbelief.

Jennifer Hamson scored eight quick points — all four shots were within a foot of the basket — and the Cougars looked like they were going to hang with the regular-season champions in the face of a huge partisan Gonzaga crowd.

Then came the drought. After taking an 8-6 lead with 15:52 remaining, BYU made just one field goal — a jumper by Kim Beeston — in the next 21 minutes, the drought lasting well into the second half. Seventeen of BYU’s 21 turnovers were committed during that stretch.

Judkins said Gonzaga took advantage of BYU’s inexperienced point guards and took away the Cougars’ primary scoring option, Hamson. She finished with 24 points on 10 of 18 shooting, but hardly touched the ball in that stretch that included runs of 14-0 and 11-0 by the Zags sandwiched around four three throws by Lexi Eaton, who suffered through her worst shooting game in a BYU uniform.

"It was a combination of both [Gonzaga’s defense and BYU’s ineptitude]," Hamson said. "They picked up their defense, and we kinda lacked on our offense."

Beeston’s 3-pointer with 14:18 remaining in the game finally got the Cougars going, but by then BYU was in catch-up mode. Trailing by as many as 20 points in the second half, the Cougars cut the deficit to 10 twice in the last seven minutes, but each time tournament MVP Sunny Greinacher or all-tourney picks Keani Albanez and Jazmine Redmon made a big play to right the Zags.

Hamson also made the all-tournament team.

The Cougars kept it reasonably close by going 21 for 21 from the free-throw line, a school record, and Eaton somewhat atoned for a miserable 2 of 18 shooting performance by going 11 of 11 from the line.

"You can’t have one of your best players go 2 for 18," Judkins said. "That doesn’t help. You gotta give them credit, they really pressured her."

Asked if his team has done enough to warrant an at-large bid, Judkins said it has and referred to BYU’s "hard schedule" and second-place finish in a "good conference" which has five teams with RPIs in the top 100.

"I think we have an excellent chance," Judkins said. "We don’t want to quit now."

drew@sltrib.com

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