WCC Tournament run for BYU women ends in semifinals
LAS VEGAS — Playing its third game in four days, the No. 5 seed BYU women’s basketball team came out ready and willing for the challenge of facing well-rested and 17th-ranked Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference semifinals.
After a close first half, the Cougars were blitzed 27-10 in the third quarter and never recovered, eventually losing to the No. 1 seed Bulldogs 79-64 at Orleans Arena.
While waiting for the post-game news conference, junior guard Arielle Mackey-Williams shared with coach Amber Whiting that her body was “broken” after the physical, emotional and mental toll of the past three games.
She had lots of company in the starting lineup. BYU played just seven athletes in the rotation with Lauren Gustin playing all 40 minutes and Mackey-Williams on the court for more than 38.
“She gave everything she had and those are the types of players I want to coach day in and day out,” Whiting said. “But this moment, it can’t define us. It won’t define us. We’ve just got to pick ourselves back up and go.”
Gonzaga, which hadn’t played since beating BYU 58-51 in Provo nine days ago, was energized from the start. Yvonne Ejim scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds (seven on the offensive end), consistently earning her team extra chances. The Bulldogs held a 19-10 advantage in second-chance points but late in the third quarter — about the time Gonzaga pushed its lead to 20 points — that number was 17-0. Utah transfer Brynna Maxwell scored 18 points on 4 of 6 from the 3-point line, all in the second half.
It was a tough day for BYU’s first-team All-Conference players. Nani Falatea led the Cougars with 17 points but didn’t make her first field goal until the final four minutes of the game, finishing 4 of 18 from the field. Gustin, who pulled down a tournament record 27 rebounds on Saturday, was held to nine points and nine rebounds, her lowest total on the boards since posting nine rebounds in last year’s WCC title game against this same Gonzaga team.
Sophomore Emma Calvert finished in double figures with ten points. BYU was a respectable 7 of 17 (41%) from the 3-point line but just 13 of 39 (33%) inside the arc, a clear indication of fatigue.
The Cougars fell behind early 10-2 but battled back, overcoming nine turnovers and cold shooting (9 of 27, 33%) to close to 27-25 on a jumper from Amanda Barcello with 3:12 to play in the half. Gonzaga eventually took a 31-25 lead into the break.
The Bulldogs started the third quarter on a 9-0 run to jump out to a 30-25 lead at the 7:20 mark. Ejim scored 12 points in the quarter and Gonzaga held a firm grip on the game the rest of the way.
“Tonight was not our best output for sure,” Whiting said. “Some things broke down defensively. And we had some issues on offense, obviously. But my girls, my ladies, my women, came ready to play. They they stuck together and that’s one positive. They kept fighting to the very end. There were a lot of things that broke down and so we just have to look ourselves in the face and move on.”
BYU finished the season at 16-16, the program’s worst record since going 13-16 in 2007-08.
We’ve just got to really stay together right now,” Gustin said. “We don’t want to end our season on that note. There are a lot of things we’ve got to clean up and get ready. We don’t want to be done right now. We didn’t play the best we could have, either offensively or defensively. We just go to get back in the gym and get ready for whatever is next.”
What’s likely next is the offseason. The Cougars are eligible for the post-season but are 104th in the latest NET rankings.
Gonzaga (28-3) will take No. 2 Portland (22-8) in the WCC title game on Tuesday at 2 p.m. MT on ESPNU. The Pilots defeated No. 6 Pacific 75-72 in the semifinals.