PROVO — Jeff Judkins' biggest pleasure coaching the BYU women's basketball team comes with watching his team come together to provide special moments where everyone who enters the game contributes in a significant way.
Judkins received one of those special moments on Thursday with the Cougars upsetting No. 13 Gonzaga 70-68.
The game was hard-fought throughout with Gonzaga just missing out on a potential game-winning 3-pointer and then a game-tying put-back attempt as the final seconds ticked off the clock. When the final buzzer sounded, the Cougar players celebrated enthusiastically in front of a larger-than-normal Marriott Center crowd.
"The ball was like rimming around and then I see it drop and I look up at the shot clock, and there's like 0.8 seconds left, and then I see it bounce on the floor and I was like, 'Shoot. We just won!,'" said BYU guard Paisley Johnson about the game's final moment.
Johnson provided some key moments throughout the game, scoring 12 points and hitting two big foul shots down the stretch while providing perhaps the team's biggest emotional spark.
But beating a team like Gonzaga takes much more than just one player, and as mentioned, the Cougars received contributions from a variety of sources.
Off the bench came big contributions from guard Maria Albiero, who swished through two big 3-pointers toward the end of the first half to help BYU rebound from a slow start. Other key contributions came from center Sara Hamson, who blocked some key shots and gave Gonzaga difficulty on the low post, and from Jasmine Moody, who had one of her best games as a Cougar, helping defend the post.
And then there's starting guards Brenna Chase and Shaylee Gonzales, both of whom contributed big late and throughout, much like they've done in most games this season, scoring 14 and 17 points, respectively.
"As a coach, these are the nights you really pray for," Judkins said. "You work hard to see your team compete in a big game, believe in each other and execute and then have success doing it. This is what makes it worth it."
As mentioned, things didn't start well for the Cougars, with Gonzaga pulling ahead 19-9 after one quarter. But the Cougars kept their heads up throughout a key second-quarter run, finally catching the Bulldogs at 34-34 to end the half by virtue of two made free throws by Johnson.
"We had a great second quarter," Judkins said.
A break-away lay-up by Chase gave BYU an early 36-34 lead in the second half, a lead the Cougars would retain until the final minutes of the third quarter, when Gonzaga inched ahead 52-50.
The two teams traded baskets throughout much of the fourth quarter before consecutive baskets from Chase gave the Cougars a 65-62 lead with just over four minutes remaining.
From there the teams buckled down considerably on defense, with BYU's final five points all coming from the foul line. Johnson hit her aforementioned two foul shots with a minute left to push BYU's lead to 69-66 with Gonzales hitting one of two attempts with 13 seconds left to give the Cougars a 70-68 lead.9 comments on this story
Gonzaga's final attempt to either tie or win the game exemplified BYU's complete team effort, with Judkins inserting seldom-used senior Caitlyn Alldredge into the lineup for her first action of the night. The purpose was to help contain Gonzaga's Laura Stockton, with Alldredge responding just as anticipated.
"I knew Caitlyn would do what I wanted her to do," Judkins said. "I knew she wouldn't hesitate. … Plus she's tough. If the ball got loose, she'd go down there and get it. … She doesn't get all the minutes, but what she does for this team is huge."
With the win, BYU improves to 15-3 overall and more importantly a perfect 7-0 in West Coast Conference play. Next up for the Cougars is a home game versus Portland on Saturday.