LAS VEGAS — For a while in the first half, the BYU women's basketball team hung around top-seeded Gonzaga and appeared poised to throw a major scare into the Zags — if not spring a major upset — in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament.
But in the final minutes of the first half, things began to unravel for the cold-shooting Cougars, who quickly fell behind by double digits and couldn't recover.
In the end, the Zags trampled No. 4 seed BYU, 62-43, Saturday afternoon at the Orleans Arena.
"We played really well for the first 15 minutes, then right before half we kind of let down a little bit and that gave Gonzaga a little bit of momentum," said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. "It was tough to come back. We thought we could do it, but we couldn't seem to get over the hump."
Gonzaga improved to 26-5 overall and will advance to Monday's tournament championship game. BYU, which fell to 21-10, could receive an invitation to the WNIT in the coming days.
"Hopefully, we'll learn from this and our team gets a team to play somewhere in the postseason," Judkins said. "Hopefully in the WNIT, to get some of these young players better and be able to improve as a team and get ready for next year."
The Zags beat BYU for the third time this season, and avenged last year's loss to the Cougars in the WCC tournament championship game.
After drilling 13 of 28 3-pointers in a victory over Loyola Marymount in Friday's quarterfinals, BYU shot a miserable 2 of 16 from 3-point range Saturday.
Against the Lions, Stephanie Vermunt Seaborn and Kim Beeston combined to knock down 11 of 21 shots from the floor. Against the Bulldogs, they made just 1 of 14.
"Sometimes it's a little bit the law of averages; sometimes you're not focused on the basket; or sometimes you let the pressure get to you," Ashley Garfield said of her team's shooting woes. "Just a lot of little things."
Early on, BYU played toe-to-toe with Gonzaga, though it never lead. The Cougars tied the game 8-8, and trailed by just one, 18-17, after Garfield's layup with 3:52 remaining in the first half.
But that was the final basket for the Cougars for a long stretch. The Bulldogs finished the half on a 12-2 run, including 10 consecutive points.
Meanwhile, the Cougars didn't score another field goal until the 15:10 mark of the second half, on a jumper by senior guard Haley Steed. At that point, BYU's deficit was 37-24.
During the Cougars' nine-minute field goal drought, Gonzaga outscored BYU, 19-5. Turnovers played a role in the Zags' burst. The Cougars committed 22 turnovers on the day.
"They were really getting out and running. They were using our turnovers to their advantage," said Garfield. "We weren't able to get back and set up defensively. A lot of our offense comes from our defensive stops. So when we weren't getting those defensive stops, our offense kind of struggles. They were able to capitalize on some of our turnovers and push the ball and get that little lead before the half."
Right after Steed's basket in the second half, the Zags quickly pushed their lead to 42-24. The Bulldogs led by as many as 23 late in the contest.
Gonzaga center Shelby Cheslek scored a game-high 16 points and forward Sunny Greinacher chipped in 10. BYU's leading scorer was Morgan Bailey, who scored 12 off the bench.
Steed went 3 of 11 from the floor, including 0 for 4 from 3-point territory. She finished with eight points to go along with three assists and three turnovers.Comment on this story
Guard Jazmine Redmon's strong defensive performance against Steed was part of the Bulldogs' plan to "neutralize" Steed, said Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves.
"(Redmon) was in Haley's pocket all night and made her work hard," Garfield said.
Judkins drew a technical foul with 2:42 remaining in the game after pleading for more consistency from the officials.
"I thought they let them get very physical with us and they wouldn't let us do the same," Judkins explained. "But as a team, as a player, you've got to adjust to it."