No. 16 BYU women’s basketball suffocates Santa Clara on defense to stay undefeated in conference play

The Cougars forced 23 turnovers in 76-44 win.

(Chuck Burton | AP) BYU's Tegan Graham (10) reacts after making a 3-point basket against Rutgers late during the second half of a college basketball game in the first round of the women's NCAA tournament at the University Events Center in San Marcos, Texas, Monday, March 22, 2021.

Provo • BYU graduate guard Tegan Graham noticed something that she then relayed to her teammates at the end of the first quarter of Thursday’s 76-44 win over Santa Clara.

One Broncos player had said she couldn’t breathe, an apparent indication that BYU’s speed was tiring out the team from Northern California. Graham implored her team to continue pushing the pace in transition.

“We can breathe,” Graham said.

But it wasn’t only BYU’s fast pace on offense that gave the Broncos problems. The Cougars didn’t allow their opponents to breathe when they played offense.

BYU forced 23 turnovers and scored 23 points off them. It amassed 16 steals, with sophomore guard Shaylee Gonzales grabbing five of those.

When asked if Thursday was the best defensive performance of the season for BYU, coach Jeff Judkins said, “It was right up there.”

“Everything was aggressive and they rotated very, very well and were very active,” Judkins said.

Santa Clara had trouble getting open shots. There was one stretch that bridged the first and second quarters where the Broncos didn’t score a point for about 10 minutes of game time.

BYU trailed just once in the game, when the score was 7-6 early in the first quarter. The Broncos scored just 12 points for the rest of the half.

Santa Clara’s 44 points was its lowest total of the season.

Graham said that not only have the team’s rotations been much sharper of late, but the Cougars are also improving on knowing their opponents tendencies and exploiting them.

“It’s just the IQ,” Graham said. “Forcing people certain ways and choosing which shooter to close out on, which side to close [on]. All that sort of stuff, the coaches do a great job of scouting and making sure we have a great game plan. And I think what we do is we execute that really well.”

Graham led the Cougars in scoring with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting and added four assists. Gonzales had 13 points and nine assists to go along with her nine steals.

“She anticipates really well,” Judkins said when asked why Gonzales is so adept at getting steals. “As she walks through the game plan and watches the film, I guarantee you she watches it and goes, ‘Where in this position can I get a chance of getting it?’”

Graham added: “Shaylee plays so hard. ... She gets steals like that because she anticipates and she plays hard. She’s just 100% all the time.”

Coming into Thursday night’s game against Santa Clara, the BYU had been throttling conference opponents, averaging a margin of victory of 28.8 in its previous four games. But the Broncos were third in the conference in scoring, averaging 70 points per game — five points fewer than BYU’s West Coast Conference-leading total.

The Cougars also, at least for one game, fixed a bugaboo they’ve been dealing with for the past few games: turnovers. They committed just 10 against Santa Clara. The last time they committed that few was Dec. 21 against Montana State-Bozeman.

Men’s basketball

The BYU men’s team lost a heartbreaker on the road to Santa Clara, 77-76.

The Cougars held a 74-70 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the game, but squandered the lead to lose just their second game in WCC play. The loss will all but guarantee that they won’t get into the AP Top 25 next week.

Senior guard Alex Barcello scored 20 points for the Cougars (17-5, 5-2 WCC), while senior guard Te’Jon Lucas scored 17. Freshman forward Fousseyni Traore added 10 points and 15 rebounds. Senior forward Gideon George had 13 points and six rebounds.