MORAGA, Calif. — With the lead slipping away as the second half expired, the BYU women’s basketball team couldn’t rally to prevent a 64-52 Saint Mary’s victory on the road Saturday.
With the Saint Mary’s win, BYU (16-6, 7-3 West Coast Conference) drops out of the tie for second place in the league, while the Gaels (16-6, 8-2 WCC) retain sole ownership behind No. 1 Gonzaga.
“We have to move on and realize we have our backs against the wall,” BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. “We just have to take it one game at a time.”
Haley Steed led the Cougar effort with 18 points on six 3-pointers, shooting 54.5 percent from 3-point land. She also contributed seven assists and four rebounds.
“Haley’s tough,” Judkins said. “Haley’s a competitor. That’s how she plays when things aren’t right.”
Steed was helped out by Keilani Unga, who contributed 12 points and five rebounds.
BYU struggled with early turnovers, giving Saint Mary’s five points off eight BYU turnovers. Down 14-8, Steed drained her second 3-pointer of the afternoon. An offensive rebound by Jennifer Hamson gave Steed a chance for a second-straight trey to tie it up at 14.
Unga added to Steed’s six points with a layup of her own, drawing the BYU run out to 8-0 and pushing the Cougars into their first lead of the game at 16-14. Steed drained another from 3-point land, her fourth of the game, to get the point guard into double figures and the BYU lead to 21-16.
The Cougars shot 50 percent from beyond the arc thanks to Steed’s 4 for 7 shooting and Stephanie Vermunt Seaborn’s 2 for 4 shooting. Overall, BYU shot 52.4 percent in the first half.
The Gaels chipped BYU’s lead down to two on back-to-back field goals with just over four minutes to play until halftime. The Cougars held on, heading into halftime with a 30-28 lead.
A Gael 3-pointer opened the second half, but Steed responded with another from downtown to retake the lead. The teams leapfrogged back and forth for seven lead changes before Gael Mia Greco sank back-to-back jumpers for a 43-40 Saint Mary’s lead.
A 12-2 Gael run left BYU scrambling to get back in the game. Trailing 57-47 with 2:25 to play, BYU increased its score to 52 on a 3-pointer by Morgan Bailey, but it wasn’t enough to beat the seven additional points from Saint Mary’s.
BYU returns to the Marriott Center to host Santa Clara in a Valentine’s Day cancer awareness pink game on Thursday at 7 p.m. MST.
Rachel Hawks is a sports information director for BYU Athletic Communications.