PROVO, Utah – The crisis moment was sure to come, and it arrived exactly midway through the third quarter Thursday night at the Marriott Center.
Gonzaga’s 14-point halftime was down to one, the BYU crowd was in full roar and guard Jill Townsend was running tearfully off the court after accidentally butting heads with teammate Kayleigh Truong.
“I guess her head is just a little harder than mine,” said Townsend, who gathered herself together and got back on the court.
After a providential media timeout, her tougher-than-nails teammates did the same, reclaimed the momentum and eventually a huge 55-43 West Coast Conference win over the program that beat them three times last year.
“We definitely had a chip on our shoulder with the crowd and how aggressive their players are,” senior guard Katie Campbell said.
The Zags (13-1, 2-0 WCC) turned the tables on BYU with aggressive defense that limited the Cougars to 33% shooting.
“We made them work,” GU head coach Lisa Fortier said. “We battled on the boards, and definitely in the first half we were really dialed in.”
To hear the players, the Zags have been dialed in for this one since last March, when BYU routed a hobbled GU team 82-68 in the WCC championship game.
Townsend was on crutches for that one after suffering a leg injury in the semifinals, so this was especially sweet.
“That was no fun,” Townsend said. “What happened last year – we didn’t like it and we weren’t going to let it happen again.”
Turning wishes into reality is another matter, but Townsend did a number on BYU guard Paisley Johnson, who was 3 for 12 from the field.
“She’s a big part of their offense, and we talked about her all week – that kept me preoccupied all week,” said Townsend, who also had seven points, three rebounds and three steals.
The Zags also shut down guard Brenna Drollinger, who was 3 for 12. Considering that Drollinger and Johnson combined for 44 points in the title game, defense made all the difference.
“They kicked our butts the last few times,” Fortier said.
Yet after an awful first half of offense, BYU (7-6, 2-1) was suddenly back in the game midway through the third quarter.
Trailing 32-18 at intermission, the Cougars reeled off seven straight points to provoke a GU timeout. It made little difference, as BYU went on an 8-2 run to cut the GU lead to 34-33.
During the media timeout, Fortier heard one of her assistants say the Zags needed a basket.
“I said, ‘We need a stop,’ ” Fortier said.
The Zags got both, several times over, to win going away.
Up stepped Campbell with a 3-pointer at top of the arc, a shot set up by a nice pass from Jessie Loera.
“One-mores,” Campbell calls them – the extra passes “that lead to open shots and 3s.
“I don’t know what the score was at the time, but I know it was a good pass,” added Campbell, who had one of the most complete games of her career: 11 points, six boards and a 3-for-4 shooting night from beyond the arc.
At the other end of the court, Jenn Wirth drew a foul from Sara Hamson, BYU’s 6-foot-7 post, and LeeAnne Wirth made a short jumper to push the lead to 39-33.
And so it went, big shots and big stops feeding off each other until the lead was back into double digits (44-33) going into the fourth quarter.
BYU once got within nine but never threatened in the final minutes.
“We got outexecuted tonight,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “I thought they ran their stuff well and we were scatterbrained offensively. You’ve got to give them credit for that, but part of it is still on us.”
Gonzaga dominated the first half with aggressive defense that limited BYU for 28% shooting from the field.
That aggression also paid off with 13 points off turnovers, several caused by a press. GU also had seven steals in the first half.
Jasmine Moody’s jumper midway through the first quarter gave BYU a 10-9 lead – the Cougars’ last, as it turned out.
The Bulldogs outscored BYU 23-8 over the next 15 minutes. They even played the Cougars to an 18-all draw on the boards, thanks partly to another big game from backup forward Melody Kempton.
“We were really fired up about this game,” said Kempton, who finished with seven points and six boards.
The Bulldogs travel to San Diego on Saturday to play the Toreros at 2 p.m.
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