For most of Tuesday night’s game in Spokane, BYU looked a lot like a team that had only played two games in the past four weeks.
Once the Cougars found their groove, they put a pretty big scare into No. 19 Gonzaga.
BYU rallied from a 14-point second half deficit and tied the game with 1:52 remaining but defensive lapses proved costly in a 63-56 loss at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
"I'm real proud of our team," BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. "We just had a few lapses; one was that we got into foul trouble in the first half. They hit some shots and we kind of scrambled. We fought back in the second half and I thought our girls showed a lot of character and a lot of heart."
The Cougars trailed 38-24 in the third quarter but mounted a comeback in the fourth. Shaylee Gonzales made her only 3-pointer of the night to tie the score at 54. But BYU lost Cierra Walker on consecutive possessions. Walker – one of the leading 3-point shooter in the SEC at Vanderbilt before she transferred to Gonzaga this year – banged 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to push the Bulldogs out to a 60-54 lead with 58 seconds remaining.
Paisley Harding led the Cougars with 17 points and Gonzales finished with 12. Tegan Graham had three timely 3-pointers and finished with nine points. Lauren Gustin, BYU’s second leading scorer, was just 2 of 10 from the field and scored only four points to go along with ten rebounds.
Jill Townsend led Gonzaga with 18 points and Kayleigh Truong added 11. Walker took just three shots and made all three 3-pointers. The Bulldogs finished with a huge advantage at the foul line, making 17 of 22 compared to BYU’s 4 of 6. Gonzaga also outrebounded BYU 36-28 and scored 15 points off of 16 Cougar turnovers.
BYU took an 8-6 lead in the first quarter when Gonzales stole a pass and sailed in for a layup. But the Cougars suffered from a rash of turnovers and trailed 14-11. Harding hit a short jumper with under a minute to play and BYU pulled to within one, 14-13, heading into the second quarter.
BYU led 20-16 on a Kaylee Smiler 3-pointer with 6:59 to play in the second period but that’s when the Cougars fell apart. Turnovers and missed shots came in bunches as Gonzaga scored 13 straight points, including eight points from Townsend for a 29-20 lead. The run became 18-2 over the final six minutes of the half with Harding’s pull-up jumper the only basket for BYU in a span of seven minutes. Truong sank a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer and the Bulldogs took a 34-22 lead into the locker room at the half.
Gonzaga led 38-24 on a Jenn Wirth basket early in the third quarter and still held a 10-point advantage, 44-34 starting the fourth.
That’s when Graham started to find her range from the 3-point line and her second triple of the quarter brought the Cougars to within five points at 50-45. Later, Walker was assessed a technical foul and Harding made two free throws closed the gap to 52-49. BYU also got possession and Harding fed Gustin for a layup with 2:32 to play to make it a one-point deficit.
The Cougars tied it on Gonzales’ 3-pointer but the Bulldogs surged ahead and won their 15th straight game to move to 11-0 in West Coast Conference play and 16-2 overall.
"We had our chances," Judkins said. "We just didn't hit the shots that we had open and they did. That made the difference tonight. When you're playing on the road, you've got to hit those shots. I thought we played really well as a team, though, and a lot of our girls played really hard. Hopefully we'll learn from this and when we get them next time, we can handle things better."
BYU (4-2, 9-3) is scheduled to play two home games later this week, with a Thursday meeting against Pepperdine and a Saturday matchup with Loyola Marymount.