Going into Monday, no lower seed had managed to pull off an upset in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Then BYU-Rutgers happened.
The Cougars, an 11th seed, put together a late-game comeback to overthrow sixth-seeded Scarlet Knights, 69-66, at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. BYU advances to the second round, where they will face Arizona, which defeated Stony Brook on Monday.
“We all just came together as a team and we told each other that we’re going to win this game — that we’re not letting back and that we needed to fight,” BYU sophomore Shaylee Gonzales said. “We came together and told ourselves that we needed to pick up our defense.”
For Rutgers, the loss meant an early exit to an otherwise successful season. The Scarlet Knights only suffered three regular-season losses before having to take a month-long COVID-19 pause. When they returned, they went on to win nine consecutive games.
The Cougars were down by 12 late in the third quarter but were able to cut the deficit to single digit entering the fourth. Shortly after, BYU went on a 12-0 run to regain the lead with just four minutes left in the game.
What helped seal the deal for BYU was the performance from the free throw line in the final seconds. The Cougars made 7 of 9 of their free throws in the final 30 seconds, 6 of which came from Gonzales.
BYU VS. ARIZONA
When • Wednesday, TBD
TV • ESPN2 or ESPNU
Both teams attempted 23 free throws, but BYU made 20 of its attempts while Rutgers made 17 — pretty critical in a 3-point game.
“It all comes with confidence,” Gonzales said. “I got to the line and I told myself that I was making those shots, that all those shots were big-time and I needed to make all of those to win the game.”
Rutgers outshot BYU from the field and from the arc, but the Cougars were able to capitalize off their opponents’ mistakes. The two teams committed a combined 39 turnovers, but the Cougars won the turnover margin by one.
BYU also took more of an advantage from those turnovers, outscoring the Knights 22-13 on points off turnovers.
Gonzales and Paisley Harding combined for 45 of BYU’s points. Harding paced the Cougars with a team-high 28 points on 8 of 17 shooting from the field.
“Paisley is excited to be here,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “She knows how hard it is to come into the NCAA Tournament, so she made the most of it.”
Down three, the Scarlet Knights had a chance to inbound the ball and attempt a game-winning shot — very similar to BYU’s last game. In that case, Gonzaga pulled a game-winner to win the West Coast Conference Tournament.
The Cougars remembered entire team that loss and knew they had a chance to change the result this time.
“I got my teammates and told them we’re not having another game like Gonzaga,” Gonzales said. “I literally thought of Gonzaga. I was like, there’s no way. We need to play defense. We’re not letting them win by a game-winner shot. We need to focus and buckle down.”
So, they did.
The Scarlet Knights ended their season on a two consecutive losses (in the Big 10 tournament and the NCAA Tourney).
“We just missed shots — that’s as simple as that,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “Sometimes it happens. I didn’t think that there wasn’t anything special that [BYU] did. They were predictable in the way that they played. ... Sometimes you make shots and sometimes you miss them, and that’s what basically happened.”