I'm really proud of my team.This is one of the best defensive games we've had. —BYU head coach Jeff Judkins
PROVO — Brigham Young blew open a sluggish game in the second half to steamroll No. 18 Gonzaga, 70-40, at the Marriott Center Thursday night.
The win pulled the Cougars (22-4 overall, 10-2 league play) into a tie with the Bulldogs (21-4, 10-2) atop the West Coast Conference standings, and set up a potential showdown for the league championship later this month at Gonzaga.
"I'm a coach that tells it how it is," BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. "I don't sugarcoat it, and I told them that this was a big game, that this could decide who wins the league."
Both teams struggled offensively early on, with Gonzaga taking a 7-2 lead. But the Cougars scored six straight points to take the lead for good.
BYU's constant on this night was its defense, something Judkins certainly took note of.
"I'm really proud of my team," he said. "This is one of the best defensive games we've had."
Team captain and point guard Haley Steed also said the Cougars' defense — which helped hold the Bulldogs to 21 percent shooting — was one of the keys to the game.
"As far as forty minutes of defense, I would say it's our best game of the year," Steed said. Steed dished out 10 assists and scored eight points.
Coming out of the locker room with a 24-20 advantage after allowing the Bulldogs to shoot just 15 percent in the first twenty minutes, the Cougars looked to build on their lead.
They did just that when they went on a 20-0 scoring run. In all, BYU finished the game by outscoring Gonzaga 36-9 over the final fourteen minutes.
"I thought if we make some of those at the rim early, then maybe things are different," Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves said. "But you have to give (BYU) some credit — defense doesn't get enough credit."
Another big factor was the play of BYU's post players. Jennifer Hamson finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and a steal, while Kristen Riley had 11 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
Forward Dani Peterson grabbed 10 rebounds and had three points, but her efforts defensively were vital in the victory. After the game, Peterson said last year's 91-64 loss at Gonzaga — in which she gave up 22 points to the Bulldogs' Kayla Standish — was fresh on her mind.
"I had a vivid image (of Standish) and that helped me before the game," Peterson said. "I didn't want her to get anything." Peterson held Standish to 12 points, and forced her into committing four turnovers.
Judkins said both his team and Gonzaga — who has won seven league championships in a row — should keep playing after the regular season ends.
"Both of those teams deserve to go to the tournament," he said.
Kim Parker had a game-high 16 points while collecting five rebounds for the Cougars. Stephanie Vermunt contributed eight points.
Standish grabbed 12 rebounds, while teammate Kelly Bowen finished with eight points and Jazmine Redmon six.
The Cougars have a week off before hosting San Francisco on Thursday at 7 p.m.