Balanced BYU uses defense to beat Auburn in NCAA Tournament
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — BYU brought its own stellar defense against one of the best teams in the country at wreaking havoc all over the court. All week, the Cougars planned to play man defense against Auburn then switched it up to zone and that move paid off.
Brenna Chase had 19 points, seven assists and three blocked shots, and seventh-seeded BYU used an impressive third quarter to run away from No. 10 seed Auburn 73-64 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Shaylee Gonzales scored 17 points and Caitlyn Alldredge added 14 as the West Coast Conference champion Cougars (26-6) overcame Auburn’s in-your-face, pressure-at-every-chance defense by playing its own stellar D — getting four blocks from 6-foot-7 Sara Hamson.
A focused halftime chat helped BYU take charge.
“We talked about not fouling and rebounding. We talked about where the openings would be and we came out and executed right away,” Chase said. “We were getting a lot of looks in transition in the third quarter.”
BYU will play Monday against host and No. 2 seed Stanford (29-4), a 79-54 winner against Big West champion and 15th-seeded UC Davis (25-7) in Saturday’s second game.
The Cougars hit 7 of their first 10 shots out of halftime and used an 11-0 run in the third to take control, while Auburn continued to struggle shooting and missed eight in a row during a costly stretch.
“Their quickness in person is a lot quicker than it is on tape. We worked all week on playing them man. We figured we could contain them,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “But things change, especially when Sara picked up her second foul. That forced me to do some things I didn’t want to do. So we tried zone and they struggled with it, so we were going to stay with it until they started hitting shots.”
Janiah McKay had 19 points going 6 for 18 from the floor for cold-shooting Auburn (22-10) in her final college game. This wasn’t how McKay wanted to finish her career, and her legs started cramping. All season she was determined to get back to the big March stage after last season’s miss, and this was the Tigers’ third NCAA berth in four years.
McKay got her team on the board with an early 3 then her team struggled until she scored with a driving layup at the 3:40 mark after Auburn went more than 2 minutes without a basket.
BYU had its own scoring struggles until getting on track after the break.
Auburn jumped into the passing lanes, crashed the offensive boards to create extra chances and hit the floor for loose balls in outhustling BYU in the opening quarter. The Tigers stayed close because of their defense when the shots didn’t fall, getting 14 steals for the game.
“Against a zone you have to knock down shots and we stood around a little and the offense became stagnant,” Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said.
It was another balanced performance by the Cougars, who have multiple 3-point threats as well as Hamson in the middle. BYU got back to the tournament for the first time since 2016 and a first-round loss to Missouri.
BYU pulled off an 82-68 upset of favored-but-injury-plagued Gonzaga in the WCC tournament championship game. The Cougars are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016.
Both teams came out cold from the floor, 2 of 7 by BYU and Auburn’s 2 for 12.
STARS IN THE STANDS
Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, a former BYU star, sat just off the court near the Cougars bench while Ruthie Bolton — who played at Auburn and for Hall of Fame Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer on the gold-medal winning 1996 Olympic team at the Atlanta Games — was on the other side in Maples Pavilion.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson arrived to watch the second game, with little sister Anna Wilson a reserve guard for Stanford.
Auburn: Auburn shot 2 for 13 from deep in the first half and wound up 4 of 27 while shooting just 32 percent overall from the field. … The Tigers came in having forced 21.2 turnovers per game while committing just 13.1 and averaging 12.2 steals. They forced BYU into 16 turnovers.
BYU: Hamson and Chase had two blocks apiece in the first half. .. BYU second-leading scorer Paisley Johnson, averaging 14.8 points, had her streak of double-figures games snapped at 18 in a row finishing with eight points. … The Cougars are now 6-12 record in the NCAA Tournament. … BYU led 28-26 at the break and is 19-1 when ahead at halftime.