PROVO — In a win-or-go-home tournament, a coach may need to pull out all the stops and do something drastic to spark the team to victory.
For BYU coach Jeff Judkins, it was something as simple as switching up a defensive strategy that stymied San Diego State star senior Courtney Clements, who scored 31 points in the Aztecs' last game, and ignited the Cougar offense to pull away from SDSU, 69-58, Saturday at the Marriott Center in the second round of the WNIT.
“I’ve never done this. I call it 44 or diming-and-1. We worked on it a little bit yesterday, but I was proud of the way these guys executed it. They switched when they had to and do the things they needed to. It fouled them up and made them stand around,” Judkins said. “That was the biggest thing it did and it happened to us. They did a triangle-and-2 on us, but we had a great team effort tonight by these guys.”
BYU led 28-26 in a tightly contested game at the half, but it was the switch on defense coming out in the second half that energized BYU, which built a 15-point lead at one point.
“We’ve always been a team where if we play good defense, it translates over to our offense,” said junior guard Kim Beeston. “When we get stops it pumps us up. Jen (Hamson) had a big game with 17 rebounds, so that helps a lot too.”
The Cougars shot 22 percent from beyond the arc in the first half going 2-9, but were able to turn that around in the second half, shooting 6-12 on some timely and vital baskets.
“I can think of a few 3s that Kim hit and Steph (Seaborn) as well that the timing of them were just perfect,” said senior guard Haley Steed. “We needed a basket and for us a 3 is a momentum builder and I think there were several times that we needed one and we were able to hit those shots.”
Looking beyond the numbers, Aztec head coach Beth Burns noted her team hadn’t been able to get past missing the NCAA tournament and having to settle for the WNIT.
“I thought both teams were off in the first half, from a tempo standpoint,” Burns said. “I think there is a uniqueness to the WNIT in that you have to shake your disappointment. You have to shake it and just start playing. It’s just a fact.”
The Cougars, on the other hand, have hit the ground running and are enjoying the journey.
“Every team wants to be in the NCAA tournament, but you know, we didn’t make it there. So we want to make the best of this opportunity to play in this tournament. This is a good tournament. There are good teams in this tournament,” Steed said. “I think our team has done a good job of embracing this moment and saying we are going to make the most of this opportunity we have.”
BYU will next play Sunday’s winner between Saint Mary’s and Northern Colorado. The Cougars have played Saint Mary’s twice this season, splitting the two games.
“We’d be more comfortable playing them (Saint Mary’s) because we’ve played them twice,” Judkins said. “But it doesn’t really make a difference. I think tonight, this is my opinion, I thought San Diego State was one of the best teams we’ve played all year. I think them and Gonzaga are the two best teams we’ve played and I think if we play our game, we execute and get balanced scoring like we did tonight, we’re a tough team to beat.”
BYU had four of five starters in double figures with Beeston leading the way with 17 points, closely followed by Steed (13), Seaborn (12) and Hamson (10). The announcement of where Tuesday’s game will be held will be made following the Saint Mary’s vs. Northern Colorado contest.