Needing a basket to hold off a late run by No. 16 Gonzaga, BYU got the play it needed from Paisley Harding.
The senior scored on a difficult drive as the shot clock neared zero and that basket gave the Cougars a 59-56 lead with 14.3 seconds to play. Harding then iced the game with a pair of free throws with 4.4 seconds to play, putting a cap on the 61-56 upset victory, ending the ‘Zags 17-game winning streak.
“Paisley made a big-time basket for us,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “For her to go clutch and be able to do it, that was awesome. Gonzaga scouts so well you can’t slip in a tricky play. They know how to guard everything. We tried to get it in a situation where our two best offensive players have a chance of score. Paisley just took the ball to the basket and made a great play.”
BYU led by 10, 55-45, with 5:32 to play when Maria Abiero dropped in a 3-pointer. But Gonzaga powered back and closed to within one, 57-56, when Cierra Walker scored with 44.4 seconds to play.
The Cougars couldn’t find an opening in the Bulldogs defense, so Harding created one.
“We going to run a certain play and there were still 44 seconds left,” Harding said. “The coaches wanted us to run the clock just a bit. I went and drove and they kind of stopped me. I realized the shot clock was running down and I needed to attack. I went up with my left hand with a floater that luckily went in. It was so thrilling and that was so fun.”
Jenn Wirth missed a 3-point and Harding forced a jump ball with eight seconds remaining. After some initial confusion, the ball was awarded to BYU. Gonzaga had to foul and Harding dropped in the game-clinching free throws.
“First, this win keeps us in the hunt for the conference title,” Judkins said. “Second, it helps us get a better opportunity for the NCAAs. Third, it gives my team a lot of confidence because they beat a ranked team. We were able to hang with them and we were able to execute at the end. The fourth thing is my girls had a lot of fun throwing water at me (in the locker room) so a lot of positive things came out tonight.”
Shaylee Gonzales led BYU (11-2 WCC, 15-3 overall) with 16 points and seven assists. Harding finished with 12 points and Lauren Gustin contributed a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Sara Hamson had 10 points, five rebounds and four blocks in the win.
Jenn Wirth led Gonzaga (13-1, 18-3) with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Leading scorer Jill Townsend was just 1 of 7 from the field and scored three points.
The Cougars took an early 8-2 lead after Albiero dropped in a 3-pointer, but the rest of the half was a close affair. A reverse layup by Kaylee Smiler tied the game at 12 after one quarter. Gonzaga snuck out to a 29-23 lead on a jumper by Jenn Wirth with 1:43 to play in the first half. The Cougars rallied when Gonzales made her first basket of the game — a 3-pointer — and followed that up with a driving shot to beat the buzzer. BYU trailed 31-30 at the break.
The two teams battled back and forth in the third quarter. BYU led 35-31 on a Gonzales jumper, but Gonzaga surged to a 41-38 advantage with 1:55 to play. Gonzales closed the quarter strong and scored seven points, including a 3-point heave from 35 feet to beat the buzzer for a 47-43 Cougar lead heading into what would be a memorable fourth quarter.
BYU will host Portland in the Marriott Center on Saturday.