Imagine what is it like for a college basketball player to be on the bench the entire game, only to get called on by her coach to take the floor for the final 13 seconds with her team desperately needing a stop to win.
That was what BYU senior guard Caitlyn Alldredge faced in Thursday’s titanic clash at the Marriott Center between the Cougars and No. 13 Gonzaga.
“It’s a little crazy, but I’ve done it before,” Alldredge said. “At first, it’s scary, but I also understand the coach trusts me, which is why he puts me in right there. It pumps me up, knowing he can trust me in that situation and know I’m going to perform like I’m supposed to.”
Cougar head coach Jeff Judkins said he turned to Alldredge because he knew she would play smart defense.
“I knew Caitlyn would do what I wanted her to do,” Judkins said. “I knew she wouldn’t hesitate. I wanted her to switch and not get beat off the drive. The other thing is she is tough. If the ball got loose, she would come out of nowhere to get it. She was ready; she’s always been ready because that’s the way she is.”
BYU’s two-point lead felt very tenuous, since the Bulldogs have plenty of weapons.
“We had a plan in the timeout that we were switching everything,” Alldredge said. “I was just going to do what was right and not foul. I was trying to play as hard as I could and as smart as I could.”
Judkins said he knew a 3-pointer could give the visitors the win, but decided he didn’t want to just surrender an easy shot and go to overtime.
“We’re saying no 3-pointers, but as they walked out, I grabbed them and said, ‘If we lose, let’s lose on a 3-pointer,’” Judkins said. “Let’s don’t lose because we let them drive in there and go to overtime. You defend them and do whatever you can to not let them get in for an easy basket. I thought, ‘We need to make a stop.’”
The Bulldogs got the ball inbounds and started moving it around the left side of the key, screening, but finding no openings. Finally Gonzaga senior guard Lauren Stockton — the daughter of former Utah Jazz star John Stockton — launched a 3-pointer that was wide of the mark.
“I saw the shot go up and I turned around to get a rebound, but then it went over my head,” Alldredge said. “I was like, oh, crap! My instinct was to stay in front of her (Bulldog sophomore forward LeeAnne Wirth), but do not foul. If they get an and-1, they win. I was like, all I can do is stay straight up and be big.”
Wirth’s six-foot contested shot bounced off the backboard and spun on the rim for what seemed like an eternity for both the BYU players and the 1,341 fans in attendance.
“You just sit there and stare at it,” Alldredge said. “You’re just like, please, please, please, please!”
Cougar sophomore guard Paisley Johnson described that frozen moment the same way, saying: “It was there forever. I was looking up and the ball is rimming around. I see it drop, then I look up at the shot clock and there is 0.8 seconds left. I see it bounce on the floor and I’m like, ‘Shoot, we just won!’”
The time expired before Gonzaga could get off another shot, giving BYU the stunning 70-68 upset win.
“It was crazy,” Johnson said. “There is so much energy on this team and I just enjoy it so much.”
Alldredge knows something about getting big wins, since she was a part of four conference titles with the Cougar softball team before joining the basketball squad.
“It’s so different than softball because the intensity in basketball is so much higher,” she said. “These girls just want it so much. To see how inspired they are to win a conference championship, it’s so exciting. I can add on to my four conference championships in softball to help them get there.”
Judkins said seeing his team be able to celebrate a big win like that is a tremendous moment for a coach.
“As a coach, these are the nights you pray for and you work hard for to see your team compete in a big game, to believe in each other, execute and have success doing it,” Judkins said. “This is what makes it all worth it.”
He emphasized over and over that this was a team win with everyone on the squad contributing.
“This is what this team has been about all year,” Judkins said. “No one cares who gets the glory. They just want to win.”
BYU’s guards led the way in scoring as freshman Shaylee Gonzales scored 17 points, junior Brenna Chase had 14 and Johnson scored 12.
“It was intense, nerve-wracking, extremely fun,” Johnson said. “That was amazing and incredible.”
Chase added, “We’ve really worked for this. We had so much fun, but we knew we could win this game.”
The Cougars had a rough start, falling behind by as many as 12 points in the first quarter, but rallied before the break and went into halftime tied, 34-34.
BYU’s big lead of the game was 50-46 but both teams kept making phenomenal plays to set up the heart-stopping finish.
Stockton led Gonzaga with 15 points, while senior forward Zykera Rice added 13 in the losing effort.
The Cougars will now need to get back to work quickly as they host a tough, dangerous Portland team on Saturday. That game is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. at the Marriott Center.