Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but it was a "diamond-and-one" that was the best friend of the BYU women's basketball team Saturday afternoon in Provo.
In a closely-contested contest again San Diego State in the second round of the women's NIT, the Cougars used the diamond-and-one defense to slow down the best player for the Aztecs, Courtney Clements.
Clements and the Aztecs had a tough time figuring things out early in the second half, allowing BYU to build a big lead. The Cougars then held off every San Diego State comeback attempt to get the 69-58 win and advance to the third round.
"We were trying to deny her the ball everywhere," said BYU senior guard Kim Beeston, who not only led the Cougars with 17 points but also played a big role in locking down Clements. "That was the plan and then if someone came to screen for her, we'd switch out. I think it worked really well because you get really tired. You could tell she got tired because she had to go through multiple different girls on our team and it helped a lot."
Cougar head coach Jeff Judkins said that defense isn’t something he’s gone to but he was pleased with how his team executed it.
“We switched when we had to and did the things we needed to,” he explained. “It fouled them up. It made them stand around. That has happened to us when teams have done a triangle-and-two. It was a great team effort tonight.”
After a first half in which neither team led by more than six points, the changed-up BYU defense sparked a 14-0 run right after the break as the Aztecs had trouble adjusting.
“We've always been a team where if we play good defense, it transfers over onto our offense,” Beeston said. “When we get big stops, it pumps us up.”
The Cougars built a game-high 47-32 advantage — but it didn’t last long. San Diego State settled down and started making plays of their own.
“They are a good team that likes to push the ball, likes to pressure,” said BYU senior guard Haley Steed. “We knew going into the game that they were going to go on runs. That's why in timeouts we tried to realize that they had had their run, then settle down, compose ourselves and punch back.”
The Aztecs scored 14 of the next 16 points to again make it a close contest at 49-46.
In that big moment, however, no one who follows Cougar women’s basketball would be surprised to find out who came up with the big shot.
BYU worked the ball inside to senior forward Keilani Unga, who spotted Steed spotting up from beyond the arc and kicked it out. The Cougar leader drained the shot to double the advantage and keep her team in front.
“They cut it pretty close there but I think we did a better job today than we have most of the year of taking that run and then executing to push the lead back,” Steed said. “There have been games this year I can think of where teams got the momentum and we let them roll over and take the lead. I think today we did a better job than we have in a long time of realizing they were on a run and buckling down on defense, getting stops and pushing the lead out again.”
San Diego State head coach Beth Burns credited the Cougars for finding ways to answer whenever her team got close.
“Even when we made runs, they bent but they didn't succumb to it,” she said. “They ran great offense.”
Judkins said the key was not coughing up the ball.
“What got them back in the game was we had four turnovers in five possessions,” he explained. “When you turn the ball over against a really athletic team, they go down to the other end and you don't get set on defense. I told my team we needed to get shots. Even if we didn't make them, we could at least get back and balance it up.”
BYU got the lead back up to 10 at 63-53 with two minutes to play, but the Aztecs made one final push.
A couple of Cougar turnovers helped San Diego State score five straight points and got a pair of looks at open 3-pointers, but the visitors couldn’t get them to drop and BYU secured the win.
“I think the difference was they missed a couple of shots and we didn't give them a second chance,” Judkins said. “(Junior center Jennifer Hamson) got the rebounds and Beeston got a big rebound when the ball went long. I've told my players all year that the key to winning games comes down to who makes the plays. Tonight, it seemed like these guys took it to heart. We made some plays tonight that we haven't made in awhile.”
The Cougars ended up with four players in double figures (Beeston with 17, Steed with 13, junior Stephanie Seaborn with 12 and Hamson with 10). Hamson also had 17 rebounds and five blocks.
“She caused a lot of problems,” Judkins said. “She got five blocks, but she changed a lot of shots. The other thing was the 17 rebounds. That was the key. In the diamond-and-one, you are going to give shots, but you can't give them easy rebound baskets. I thought she did a really good job at that.”
San Diego State was led by senior guard Chelsea Hopkins, who scored 17 points and had six assists. Clements finished with 15 points.
“Our achilles heel all year has been finding a third scorer and it was really looming tonight,” Burns said. “The separation wasn't that great but in this type of game it was because we were struggling to score. I thought they did a great job defensively and made it tough on us.”
With the win, BYU advances in the WNIT and will play the winner of the St. Mary’s-Northern Colorado game that will take place Sunday night. The time, location and and broadcasting information of the next Cougar contest is still to be announced.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.