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Kragthorpe: BYU seniors come up big on Senior Day in win over Gonzaga

First Published      Last Updated Feb 25 2017 11:34 pm


Provo

BYU senior guard Makenzi Pulsipher stole the ball in the backcourt, dribbled to her left, turned toward the basket and launched a jump shot.

Never mind that she was 0 for 9 at that moment Saturday, early in fourth quarter of an eventual 71-63 win over Gonzaga. And she knew it.

Pulsipher's struggles were significant enough that coach Jeff Judkins told her to stop forcing shots, and apparently led her to have quite a conversation with herself in that moment after her steal. After she dribbled out of traffic, waiting for her teammates to arrive, "No one was on me," Pulsipher remembered. "So I said, 'OK, this must be what [Judkins] is talking about. This might be a better shot.' So I took it, and it went in."



The transcript omits the detail of Pulsipher pressing her hands together in a praying position and smiling during the postgame news conference, just to illustrate her story. That's one more memorable scene of Senior Day at the Marriott Center, where the Cougars took down the West Coast Conference's regular-season champions. BYU's 15-0 run in the fourth quarter certainly made the upcoming WCC tournament in Las Vegas more interesting, after the Cougars avenged a 35-point loss from early February in Spokane, Wash.

Gonzaga crumbled in Saturday's fourth quarter ­— but only after outplaying the Cougars until that point. So lack of motivation for the Bulldogs after having clinched the title is not a satisfactory explanation for what unfolded on a court where BYU has gone unbeaten in conference play in senior forward Kalani Purcell's two seasons as a junior college transfer. The Cougars (19-10, 13-5) earned the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament via a tiebreaker with Saint Mary's.

The Bulldogs (23-6, 14-4) will have to regroup. Sophomore guard Laura Stockton ultimately gets credit for the WCC outright title, thanks to her game-winning shot vs. Saint Mary's two weeks ago. As the fifth of Nada and John Stockton's six children, all born during their father's Jazz tenure, Stockton became the fourth sibling to start a college basketball game in Utah.

Her homecoming appearance did not end well. All of Stockton's seven points and three of her four assists came in the first half, when the Bulldogs took a 39-36 lead. Foul trouble and turnovers spoiled her second half, as not even BYU's 1-of-13 shooting in the third quarter and a Cougar scoring drought of nearly seven minutes enabled Gonzaga to take command.

BYU trailed 51-46 before the Cougar seniors launched that decisive run. Kristine Nielson's layup, Pulsipher's steal and jumper, Purcell's two baskets and Pulsipher's 3-pointer were checkpoints of a defense-driven spurt that stemmed from BYU's being "sick of trading baskets," Purcell said.

Whatever the reason, the Cougars turned Saturday's game into a career snapshot for the seniors, by Judkins' account.

His summary: "Get down, don't have your best game, don't quit, keep playing hard, believe in each other, stick together, listen to the coaches. That's how they've been, their whole career."

Purcell scored 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting Saturday after going 2 of 13 from the field in Spokane. "She showed 'em that they couldn't guard her," Pulsipher said.

The Cougars hope they succeeded in creating some doubt in Gonzaga's minds about what may happen in Las Vegas. Judkins found himself wishing Saturday's game "would have been for the championship," but who knows? The Cougars may get their chance at Orleans Arena. With a bye into the quarterfinals, they need two wins to earn a tournament title shot, presumably against Gonzaga.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com Twitter: @tribkurt

 

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