LAS VEGAS — Kim Beeston had to wait two years to try and duplicate the most exciting BYU game she's been a part of.
Well worth it, if the smile on her face while talking about Gonzaga was any indication.
The Cougars earned the chance to face the best program in the West Coast Conference in Tuesday afternoon's championship game that includes a sure-thing NCAA Tournament bid on the line.
The opportunity came after a 77-64 win at Orleans Arena against Pacific, which couldn't take enough advantage of significant BYU foul trouble.
"It's really exciting," Beeston said, recalling the 2012 title game at the same venue which capped BYU's first year in the WCC. "Two years ago, we played Gonzaga in the championship game. That was the most fun game I have ever played."
Easier to say, naturally, because BYU won it.
But there's time for the senior guard and her teammates to improve upon the memory.
Experience comes in different fashions. The teams split their two-game series, each winning at home.
Gonzaga is no stranger to this stage. It's been to the last seven championship games, winning five.
BYU overcame three first-half fouls to its two best scorers: center Jennifer Hamson and guard Lexi Eaton.
It played through Judkins mantra of not just sitting a player because she's picked up two early fouls. He notes that he coached for someone who used to play conservatively.
"It drove me crazy," he said, smiling.
Eaton and Hamson would eventually drive Pacific crazy.
BYU built an 18-point midway through the first half before Eaton, then quickly Hamson after that, picked up third fouls.
Pacific pulled within 11 points at halftime and cut the deficit to six with 12 minutes left, though Judkins praised the tenacity of his two standouts despite their tough spots. He played them often in the second half.
Hamson — voted the league's best player, and best defensive presence — missed a couple of free throws at the 11:41 mark. BYU still led 51-45.
But Stephanie Rovetti (10 points) drew a key charge against Pacific star KiKi Moore (game-high 26 points) that swung momentum.
Eaton and Hamson produced the next 11 Cougar points, unanswered by the No. 3-seeded Tigers, who split the regular-season series with No. 2 BYU when the Cougars were often without Hamson (broken nose in the second half) and Morgan Bailey (injured).
A signature moment may have been Eaton going hard for a loose ball, but not drawing a fourth foul. She collided with a Pacific player on BYU's defensive end. Both players tumbled to the groud. Eaton reached her feet first, sprinted to the wing and eventually buried a 3-pointer for a 59-42 lead with four minutes left.
"This team knows how to win," Judkins said. "They figure it out."
BYU improved to 26-5. The Cougars are cautiously hopeful that they can get in the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year, regardless of the outcome with GU.
GU is 18-2 in league games, counting two in the tournament. It's playing with house money now, to use a gambling term.
But the Bulldogs are good, too.
They used a 22-9 run to end the first half, leading by 11 at the break, to pull away. GU eventually won, 68-60, against Saint Mary's.
The lead cut to 39-35 early in the second half, GU hit a 3-pointer to get back on track.
"Our game plan starts with defense and we'll build from there," GU coach Kelly Graves said.
Judkins praised Graves as a master of exploiting mismatches.
It should be quite the chess match. Pacific packed the key to limit BYU's effectiveness inside.
Hamson had 11 points in 25 minutes (5-of-7 shooting) and Bailey added just eight points (3-of-7 in 33).
But less heralded players, guards Rovetti and Kylie Maeda, combined for 27. They averaged a combined six.
Beeston added 12 in 40 minutes — necessary because of Eaton's foul problems during a 17-point day —as she and Maeda combined to make 7-of-11 3-point shots.
"We talked about that," Judkins said of shooting 11-of-23 from 3-point range. "Pacific put the whole team in the paint. That leaves these guys open. They took the challenge."
It was the first time this year BYU had five players score in double figures.
It sets up a nationally televised showdown (1 p.m. PST; ESPNU) with the Bulldogs, and Judkins said hustle and rebounding will be central figures. He doesn't believe the Cougars can as easily deal with foul trouble to Hamson or Eaton. Though their limited minutes (25 and 27, respectively) may pay dividends.
Beeston did play all 40, leaving it to wonder if she can replicate a game in which she hit 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
Judkins noted that Hamson fouled out in the first meeting at GU, a loss.
"They'll be ready to go," Judkins said.