BYU women rout No. 12 Gonzaga in WCC championship game, punch ticket to NCAA Tournament

BYU's Paisley Johnson, right, celebrates after BYU defeated Gonzaga in an NCAA college basketball game for the West Coast Conference women's tournament title Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Las Vegas • Paisley Johnson probably wears her emotions on her sleeve as much as any player who has ever worn a women’s basketball jersey for BYU. But when the sophomore guard from Everett, Wash., was left off the all-West Coast Conference First Team last week, her face went blank and she said she would just have to play better next time around.

Inside, she stewed, according to BYU coach Jeff Judkins and a couple of her teammates.

Johnson’s chance to prove she was wronged came in the WCC tournament, and she delivered, winning Most Outstanding Player honors and leading the Cougars to an easy 82-68 win over No. 12-ranked Gonzaga in the championship game at Orleans Arena on Tuesday afternoon.

“I told Juddy that obviously there was something I needed to prove, and I came out here and did that, and not only did we win the championship, but I showed the conference what kind of player I am going to be,” Johnson said after scoring 19 points and handing out four assists.

BYU’s third WCC title in eight years in the league gives the Cougars an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. Second-seeded BYU (25-6) completed a season sweep of top-seeded Gonzaga (28-4) , handing the tournament-bound Zags three of their four losses this season.

The Cougars won it with spectacular guard play, as Brenna Chase, Shaylee Gonzales and Johnson combined to score 61 points. Gonzales was named to the all-tournament team with Johnson after scoring 20 points.

Chase hit seven 3-pointers and finished with 25 points, but somehow was left off the all-tournament team. BYU was 13 of 25 from 3-point range.

“I guess when it is going in, it is going in,” Chase said. “You kinda just know it. It is not something that happens too often. We like it when it does.”

Defensively, 6-foot-7 center Sara Hamson dominated inside with eight points, eight rebounds and four blocks and also could easily have made the all-tourney team, but didn’t.

“Sara the last month has been the Sara that we have been waiting for,” Judkins said.

Fifth starter Caitlyn Alldredge added three points, five rebounds and outstanding defense. The former softball MVP can now say she’s the only BYU athlete who has been on five conference championship teams.

“Caitlyn Alldredge, what a story,” Judkins said. “All-league third baseman, she comes in and she’s not afraid to compete and battle.”

The Cougars used a 16-0 run during a stretch where Gonzaga missed 10 straight shots in the second quarter to take control.

“I think we saw, maybe not fear in their eyes, but they were definitely a little freaked out, and I think we kinda saw that, took advantage, and just kept running it down their throats,” Johnson said.

Gonzaga played without starting guards Laura Stockton (John’s daughter) and Jill Townsend, who were both injured in the Zags’ double-overtime semifinal win over Saint Mary’s. GU’s Zykera Rice scored 25 points, going 12 of 12 from the free-throw line, and also made the all-tourney team with SMC’s Megan McKay.

Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier left the arena in the fourth quarter to attend to a family emergency.

“That didn’t have any impact on the game, necessarily,” said assistant coach Jordan Green. “It is just a reminder of what these players, the coaches, the whole [athletic] department, means to each other.”

There were some difficult moments for the Cougars, who have now won eight straight games since the three-game losing streak that cost them the WCC’s regular-season crown. Gonzaga went on a 13-3 run and led 23-19 at the end of the first quarter.

But the Cougars stayed hot from 3-point range, with Chase blistering the nets on virtually every possession.

“It was just one of those games that went our way a little bit, but I am just so proud of my team,” Judkins said. “Nobody thought we would be here, except for them. They played their hearts out. They weren’t afraid to make a play. They weren’t afraid of the challenge. As a coach, that’s all you really want from your team.”

Even Jasmine Moody hit a three, only her third of the season. The Cougars increased their lead to 16, 55-39, on a layup by Shalae Salmon in the third quarter.

The Cougars controlled the fourth quarter and finished the tournament with just 14 turnovers in two games, having edged Pepperdine 68-63 on Monday, and sent the pro-Gonzaga crowd home unhappy.

“I enjoy playing under the big lights and against some large crowds,” Johnson said. “I fed off it, and it was awesome. … And we had a huge crowd there for ourselves, so that was kinda cool.”

BYU 82, Gonzaga 68

• Sophomore guard Paisley Johnson, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, scores 19 points and dishes out four assists in BYU’s 82-68 win.

• Junior guard Brenna Chase goes 7 of 12 from 3-point range and leads BYU with 25 points.

• Freshman guard Shaylee Gonzales, who made the all-tournament team, chips in 20 points and four assists.

• BYU wins it third West Coast Conference tournament championship in eight years in the league.