If the BYU women’s basketball team has designs on second place in the West Coast Conference — and inside sources say they do — getting a win at home against Pacific on Saturday was crucial.
The Cougars took control late in the third quarter and pushed through to the end, making 12 3-pointers in a 65-54 victory at the Marriott Center.
“This team today, they played like it mattered,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “They played hard on defense, did the right things on offense and executed. I was happy for them because they wanted it. I told them at halftime, ‘Whoever wants it the most is going to get it today.’ It looked like they were ready for it.”
Paisley Johnson, who scored a career-high 31 points the last time the Cougars faced the Tigers, led BYU with 24 points on a career-best five 3-pointers and dished out five assists. Johnson also found time to play lock down defense on Pacific’s leading scorer, Valerie Higgins, who was just 2 of 9 from the field and scored eight points.
“Juddy said something that pushed my buttons,” Johnson said. “He said Higgins was the best player in our conference. As much as I respect her game, I think we have a squad of the best players. I definitely wanted to take it to her because she was my defensive assignment. I tried to not let her do what she wanted. I wanted to be the best player in the conference today.”
Johnson was dynamic but had plenty of help from senior point guard Maria Albiero and 6-foot-7 Sara Hamson on a variety of fronts.
Albiero drained a pair of crucial 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter and filled up her stat line with goodness: 13 points, a career-high eight assists and five rebounds. Add to that 38 minutes of ball-hawking defense and Albiero will sleep very well this weekend.
“I’m so happy for Maria because she’s worked so hard, shooting the ball hours and hours to have a game like that when we needed it,” Judkins said. “She had a great week.”
Hamson had six blocks in the first half and finished with eight points, seven rebounds and eight rejections.
“Sara, she at least took away 10 to 12 points just by her being there,” Judkins said. “We’re really spoiled having a kid like that who can change a game.”
The best thing BYU had going for it in the first half was Hamson’s defense. The Cougars led 10-6 after Albiero scored on a drive, but BYU missed its next eight shots and the Tigers took a 14-10 lead after one quarter.
The Pacific advantage reached six on a 3-pointer from Sofie Tryggedsson at 19-13, but the Cougars rallied with their own sharp shooting from the arc. Brenna Drollinger dropped in a triple and Johnson scored the next three BYU baskets — all 3-pointers — for a 27-26 halftime lead.
The Cougars led 41-39 late in the third quarter but an 8-0 burst that featured three points each for Drollinger and Jasmine Moody got the home team to a 49-39 lead.
The Tigers closed to 49-46 early in the fourth but Albiero’s pair of 3-pointers lifted the Cougars lead to 55-46 with 6:14 left. BYU led by as many as 15 points to earn its second win against Pacific this season.
Tryggedsson led Pacific (7-7 WCC, 14-11 overall) with 24 points on six 3-pointers.
The Cougars (10-4, 15-9) are tied with San Diego (10-4, 16-9) for second place with four games to play. If both teams win out, the Toreros would be the second seed in the WCC Tournament due to tiebreaker rules.
“Our goal as a team is to be second in the conference,” Johnson said. “Right now we’re in a tie with San Diego so all we can do is focus and control what we can control, and that’s winning the next four games.”