The day before BYU’s matchup against rival Utah, Paisley Harding sat on her bed, visualizing herself making shot after shot. It had been since the 2017-18 season that the Cougars last beat the Utes, and she wanted to make sure her last game against them was a memorable one.
“Everything with me is about confidence, about the mental health,” Harding said. “Like staying in shape, getting going. It’s just the mental preparation that I think some people lack, but it’s super important for my game.”
Harding made her daydreams into a reality.
Harding led all scorers with a career-high 33 points on 14-of-20 shooting as the No. 21 Cougars beat the Utes, 85-80, on Saturday at the Huntsman Center. BYU improved to 8-0 on the season, while Utah dropped to 6-2.
“Paisley had it tonight,” said BYU coach Jeff Judkins, who coached his first game after missing a few due to testing positive for COVID-19. “When she’s hitting her jumper like she was tonight, she’s tough to guard.”
Sophomore guard Shaylee Gonzales scored 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting for BYU. She and Harding were the only two players in double figures for the Cougars.
Gianna Kneepkens paced Utah with 29 points on 9-of-17 shooting, including 4 of 10 from beyond the arc. Brynna Maxwell and Jenna Johnson had 10 points apiece for the Utes.
The Cougars started with a 12-4 run, punctuated by two 3-pointers from graduate guard Tegan Graham. Harding added two 3s of her own and helped the Cougars open a 14-point lead.
The Utes went on a 7-0 run to close the first quarter, but BYU made six of its final seven shots to end the half.
The Cougars led by 21 midway through the third quarter and kept a double-digit advantage until the closing minutes of the game, during which Utah made a run and got to within three points.
“I thought we were great in the fourth quarter,” Utes coach Lynne Roberts said. “If you look at shot attempts and rebounds and all that, we had more chances than them. We just didn’t shoot as well.”
The Cougars shot 59% from the field — a season high — and 40.9% from the 3-point line. The Utes’ splits in those categories were 42.6% and 34.3%.
Harding’s highest scoring quarter was the first, where she had 12 of her 33 points.
“It feels like she’s been there for about 17 years, and I mean that respectfully,” Roberts said with a chuckle. “I’ve had to defend her for years, and I’m ready for her to graduate.”
Harding said she realized during the game that she was feeling it. Judkins said he told her at halftime that “great players have great second halves” and she could reach 40 points if she kept attacking the basket.
“She got tired,” Judkins said. “If she wouldn’t have got tired tonight, she — there’s a couple of shots she missed because of her legs. But, god, what a great performance.”