PROVO — Beating Utah, "it never gets old," said a smiling Lexi Eaton Rydalch moments after she dropped 29 points on the Utes, leading the BYU women's basketball team to a big 73-59 win on Saturday.
Rydalch riddled the Utes from the get go, scoring from everywhere on the court, and often. Her work, along with several other key contributors, set the Cougars out to a big lead and seemingly on cruise control until late in the fourth quarter.
With the Utes slowly but surely chipping away at the Cougars' lead, the game took a dramatic turn with 3:26 left to play. Two quick foul calls on Rydalch forced the senior from the game with five total.
A suddenly comfortable lead was whittled down to just 63-54 at the time Rydalch went to the bench, leaving the BYU home crowd uneasy.
But while the crowd may have felt a little anxious about the situation, the Cougar players apparently did not — particularly sophomore guard Cassie Broadhead.
Broadhead subbed in for Rydalch and responded with four points down the stretch to help secure the win. The clincher, however, came from Makenzi Morrison Pulsipher, who hit a 3-point bucket that just beat the shot clock to put BYU up 68-55 with 2:04 remaining.
“I’m glad they took it. They took it confidently,” said BYU coach Jeff Judkins of Broadhead and Pulsipher stepping up big late. “As a coach, that’s what you want. You want them to believe in themselves, that they can take that shot, and both of them took it. I’m really proud of them in that way.”
Broadhead finished with eight points while Pulsipher added nine.
“I just took what came,” Broadhead said of her late heroics. “I love (clutch opportunities) and it was just a lot of fun. I wasn’t really thinking about it too much, and the reason I had those shots is because everyone else was doing their part.”
One player doing her part from the outset was forward Kalani Purcell. The junior transfer contributed nine points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals — proving extremely versatile and difficult to match up with.
“She’s a matchup nightmare because she’s a post player that can pass it like a guard,” Rydalch said of Purcell. “She can drive it like a guard, she can shoot, she hustles — she just does it all.”
Unfortunately for the Cougars, Purcell, like Rydalch, accumulated five fouls — leaving the game midway through the final period. Unlike most coaches, Judkins opted to play his two top players despite the foul trouble, late.
“I’ll play those (players with) four fouls and take my chances,” Judkins said. “I thought Kalani’s (final foul) was a pretty bad call, but it was good for those two to learn how to play with four fouls in a game like this.”
Key for the Cougars in the win was building big leads at the start of the first and third quarters. Hot shooting and focused play led the Cougars to build a 29-14 lead after one quarter and a 59-42 lead after three.
“We just didn’t execute on offense,” said Utah's Emily Potter, who led the Utes with 24 points, about yielding big early leads at the start of both halves. “(The Cougars are) going to hit shots, they’re good players, but when we took quick shots and turned the ball over, they got great shots. When we couldn’t play good offense we couldn’t play good defense.”
The Utes' futility on offense was evidenced by just 3-31 shooting by their four starters for the game, other than Potter.
With the win, BYU improves to 8-3 on the year and will begin West Coast Conference play on Dec. 23, hosting San Diego. Utah drops to 5-3 with the loss and will try to rebound next Saturday when hosting Fresno State.
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