Las Vegas • Spunky BYU guards Paisley Johnson, Brenna Chase and Shaylee Gonzales had seen enough.
Pepperdine’s Jasmine Robinson-Bacote had torched the Cougars for 18 first-half points, the Waves were killing the Cougars on the offensive glass and BYU’s dream of winning the West Coast Conference women’s basketball tournament championship was fading away.
So Chase hit a huge 3-pointer to spark an 11-0 run, Johnson held Robinson-Bacote — the WCC’s Player of the Year — to just one free throw in the second half and Gonzales crashed the defensive boards to stop Pepperdine’s flow of second-chance points.
That “family effort,” as Johnson described it, helped BYU come from 13 points behind in the third quarter and take a 68-63 win in the WCC semifinal on Monday afternoon at Orleans Arena. The second-seeded Cougars, who improved to 24-6 and quite likely secured at least an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament with the win, will face Gonzaga (28-3) in the WCC championship game on Tuesday at 2 p.m. on ESPNU.
“What you saw today is what this team has been about,” said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. “We said it in the locker room: This team is family. They really trust each other and know that if they stick together they can do anything they want.”
Along with putting the defensive clamps on Robinson-Bacote, Johnson scored a game-high 20 points, while the freshman Gonzales added 17 points and eight rebounds.
Chase was a bit off with her shooting — going 1 of 6 from 3-point range, but still chipped in 10, along with Sara Hamson. The 6-foot-7 sophomore added five rebounds and six blocks.
Third-seeded Pepperdine (20-11) led 38-32 at halftime after scoring 17 second-chance points off a whopping 18 offensive rebounds, and took a 49-36 lead with five minutes, 47 seconds remaining in the third quarter on a pair of free throws by Barbara Sitanggan.
Chase hit her only 3-pointer, Hamson made a rebound basket and Johnson and Jasmine Moody followed with consecutive 3-point plays. Johnson ended the quarter with a 3-pointer (and was 3 for 3 from long range).
“What happened to us more than anything else tonight was we were flat-footed defensively on rebounds,” Judkins said of the first half. “Partly because we haven’t played in nine days. [The long layoff] helped us. I don’t think we were as tired. If you noticed, I didn’t pull the guards out in the second half at all. I stuck with them because I don’t have to play the extra game. So it helped us.”
With about five minutes remaining, Gonzales made the offensive play of the game for the Cougars, grabbing Johnson’s miss and putting the ball back in the basket on the same motion. She completed the 3-point play to give the Cougars a 63-61 lead, and they never trailed again.
“I just grabbed it and threw it up and I didn’t even know it went in,” Gonzales said. “I was under the basket and I heard my teammates screaming so I thought, ‘I guess it went in.’ And then I just went crazy.”
Said Johnson, who also had five assists: “She always has my back.”
Johnson was put flat on her back twice in the fourth quarter, drawing charges on Robinson-Bacote both times.
“Juddy put me on her in the second half and I decided she wasn’t going to touch the ball,” Johnson said. “I denied her like crazy.”
So now the Cougars turn their attention to top-seeded Gonzaga, the WCC regular-season champion they swept for the first time ever. The Zags, ranked No. 14 nationally, edged Saint Mary’s 78-77 in double overtime Monday.
“Gonzaga lost two starters [Laura Stockton and Jill Townsend] that are big pieces of the pie [to injuries vs. SMC], but they will figure it out. They always do," Judkins said.
It will be BYU’s fourth appearance in the WCC title game in six years. The Cougars won championships in 2012 and 2015 and lost in the finals two years ago to San Francisco.