STANFORD, Calif. — Junior guard Brenna Chase has been central in leading the BYU women's basketball team's impressive late run this season, which made her performance in lifting the Cougars to a 73-64 win over Auburn on Saturday not surprising in the least. This time the stage was the first round of the NCAA Tournament, with the bright lights and unique challenge again tackled head-on by a No. 7-seeded BYU team that has exceeded expectations all year long.
Chase scored a team-high 19 points in the win, while dishing out seven assists and contributing three blocked shots, despite playing as the smallest player on the court.
"I think you saw a player that didn't panic with the pressure," said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. "Brenna has done that all year, and her point guard instincts have really paid off for us."
Chase's first points proved pretty big in setting the Cougars off after a sluggish start.
Down 11-5 early, Chase saw an open look from about 4-5 feet beyond the 3-point arc, and without much hesitation calmly gunned up a shot that found the bottom of the net to cut the deficit in half with 3:05 left in the first quarter. From there the Cougars settled down and chipped away at the Tigers' lead before finishing out the quarter up 13-11.
"To be honest, I really don't know where I'm shooting it from," Chase said of her extraordinarily long 3-point attempt. "If I get an open look, then I'm going to put it up. I believe in myself ... and my team believes in me."
As always, it wasn't just Chase proving big throughout the win. Playing like a savvy veteran yet again, freshman guard Shaylee Gonzales matched Chase's intensity and high level of play throughout, finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds.
Gonzales' play has become expected, although the 14 points put up by first-year senior Caitlyn Alldredge was not. Alldredge, who played four years starring on BYU's softball team, hit several big shots and helped out in a big way in not only surviving, but exploiting Auburn's full-court press defense for most of the game.
"I was just running the floor ... and I don't always get that opportunity," Alldredge said. "But when (Auburn) was missing I was able to kind of get out there and get some of those layups."
Auburn hung tight throughout the second quarter, with the Cougars taking a 28-26 lead into the half before ushering in a third quarter that proved pivotal in the final outcome.
An 11-1 run early saw the Cougars pull ahead 41-31 in the second half, with the Tigers seemingly frustrated with the precise execution against them with Alldredge capping off the run with a layup and a 3-pointer.
"We talked a lot about not fouling, rebounding and getting back in transition," Chase said. "We had been able to break their press, but when we finally got some boards on the defensive end, we were able to push the ball more. ... We got a lot of looks in transition."
The Cougars built on the lead a little and entered the fourth quarter with a commanding 51-39 advantage.25 comments on this story
But Auburn wasn't quite finished, and proved more active while causing havoc with its full-court pressure to forge a 9-0 run late that cut BYU's lead to just 65-61 with just over two minutes remaining. But from there the Cougars settled down to hold on for the win and a trip to the second round.
"It's just been one of those years when (my players) have made it exciting ... and that's why I don't have any hair, because of what they did late," Judkins said. "But I'm just so happy for them because they could have gotten down, but they didn't. They bounced back, and that's really what they've done all year."
With the win BYU advances to take on No. 2 seed Stanford in the second round on Monday.