Saint Mary’s coach calls BYU’s Shaylee Gonzales the best player in the WCC after she scores career-high 35 in win over Gaels

Cougars pull away late for 84-69 victory

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU guard Shaylee Gonzales (2) leads a fast break for the Cougars, in women's basketball action between the BYU Cougars and the Pepperdine Waves, at the Marriott Center in Provo, on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Judkins scored his 450th win tonight.

Every Monday, the BYU women’s basketball coaches, managers and trainer give a prize to the player they considered to have had the best week.

The prize is a “championship belt” that dons various types of BYU insignia. And this coming Monday, it’s all but guaranteed to end up in the sharpshooting hands of sophomore guard Shaylee Gonzales.

“I’m sure she’ll win it this time,” coach Jeff Judkins told The Salt Lake Tribune after the Cougars pulled away from Saint Mary’s in an 84-69 road win on Saturday afternoon.

Gonzales set a career high of 35 points against the Gaels, going 14 for 23 from the floor, including 2 for 5 from 3-point range, and 5 for 5 from the free-throw line. She also added six assists and six steals for the No. 20 Cougars, who now have a 21-2 record (11-1 West Coast Conference).

Gonzales also showed out in Thursday’s home win over Pepperdine. She scored 16 points, brought down 13 rebounds and dished out six assists in that dominant win.

“I think she’s the best player in our league,” Gaels associate head coach Allyson Fasnacht said of Gonzales on the WCC Network.

The Cougars needed all of Gonzales’ 35 on Saturday. Saint Mary’s, which lost by 42 in the game played in Provo last month, kept the game close until the final five-plus minutes of the fourth quarter. It held leads after the first and second quarters, and had a chance to win before BYU scored 11 straight points to pull away.

“She just had it tonight,” Judkins said. “She just had it offensively. The way she was moving, the way that she was coming off screens. ... We would never have won this game without what she did tonight.”

Four BYU players scored in double figures on Saturday. Senior guard Paisley Harding had 18 points, sophomore forward Lauren Gustin had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and senior guard Tegan Graham added 11 points.

The Cougars forced the Gaels to commit 28 turnovers and scored 31 points off them. Otherwise, Saint Mary’s shot better from the field and the 3-point line compared to BYU.

Judkins said his team was sharp enough to start the game. But it was Gonzales who kept the Cougars within striking distance during the first half, much like Harding did against Gonzaga last week. And it was also Gonzales who made some big shots down the stretch.

“I think tonight, she proved why she’s the best player,” Judkins said. “On the road, team wasn’t playing up to par, she took the team on her back. That’s what MVPs do. That’s what great players do.”

Gonzales surpassed her previous career high of 32 points, set on March 25, 2019, against Stanford.