LAS VEGAS — Losing is never fun and Jeff Judkins team was on borrowed time during its two-game run in the West Coast Conference Tournament at the Orleans Arena.
Missed big moments finally caught up with the Cougars Monday afternoon when St. Mary’s, a team that tied BYU in the regular conference season, sent the Cougars back to Provo with a physically dominating performance and a 59-49 decision.
But you could see this coming.
It was like watching a talented trapeze act hit the safety net too many times.
The Cougars opened this tourney falling behind San Diego 21-3 before making a dramatic comeback to win in overtime. You sputter out of the gate in March, you usually pack for home.
Then Monday, Judkins watched his team climb up on the Gaels, then self-destruct, barely running its offense, breaking down on defense and getting physically beat.
The Gaels outrebounded the Cougars 50-25. “You can’t win many games getting doubled up on the boards,” said Judkins.
Cassie Broadhead, the WCC’s Player of the Year, was completely neutralized. The league’s leading scorer, Broadhead went 1 for 9 from the floor and 0 of 6 from distance, took only one free throw, got in foul trouble early and was a non-factor.
“Cassie didn’t have her best game,” said Judkins.
“We wanted to put pressure on her defensively,” said SMC coach Paul Thomas. “We wanted to make it hard on her and when you do that, it can disturb a player.
“She is a great player, really, really good,” said Thomas, who saw Broadhead get her fourth personal foul with just over three minutes left in the third quarter. It was a charge call on a fast break, 2-on-1, with Pulsipher on the wing.
“When she was in and out (of the game), it was hard for her to get a rhythm.”
BYU took at 27-20 halftime lead on St. Mary’s. Then the roof fell in on the Cougars. It was like they lost focus and energy and then frustration set in during an 18-6 disparity in fouls called. The Cougars stood around. And got whipped good.
St. Mary’s, led by Shannon Mauldin’s 13 points, had three other players in double figures. After the break, the Gaels went on a 13-0 run. On the other end, BYU’s lack of ball movement not only hurt the offense, but it also handcuffed the best player on the floor in the first half, BYU senior Makenzi Pulsipher.
“Makenzi plays her best when there’s ball movement,” said Judkins. “When we can set screens and move the ball around, she is effective. They packed it in and played to our bigs. We didn’t take advantage of some of the things they were giving us and we sped up a little bit too much. “
Trailing in the fourth, after BYU was outscored 21-10 in the third and 18-10 in the fourth, Pulsipher couldn’t get the ball late and took only one 3-point shot in the final minute.
“We didn’t get our shots up, we stood around too much,” said Pulsipher.
This one hurt this squad, who’d expected more from this trip to Vegas. At 20-11, the Cougars left for Provo with work unfinished. The only way for an NCAA bid was to win it all here.
Judkins said he expects the Cougars will live again when the women’s NIT field is announced next Monday.
Judkins had the WCC’s leading club in scoring margin, field goal-percentage, field-goal-percentage defense, assists, steals, turnover margin and assist-to-turnover margin.
These women were second in the league in rebounding offense and defense and SMU doubled them up in this 10-point loss.
That’s what stings.
Thomas prepared for all of BYU’s stuff. His squad defended everything.
The Cougars? Not so much.
Credit St. Mary’s. But when BYU isn’t BYU on an important stage, it unleashes many sorrows. In Vegas, you have to play with house money. The Cougars couldn't.
That’s what happened in this semifinal: Unrealized moments of potential.