LAS VEGAS (AP) BYU closed the regular season losing four of its last five games. The Cougars’ struggles didn’t carry over into West Coast Conference tournament.
Lexi Eaton scored 22 points and Morgan Bailey added 20 as BYU beat San Francisco 76-65 on Tuesday to win the tournament title and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Cougars (23-9) came in as the No. 5 seed before beating fourth-seeded Saint Mary’s, top-seeded Gonzaga, and sixth-seeded San Francisco to keep their season going.
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BYU shot 51 percent from the floor – including 11 for 22 on 3-pointers – and never trailed after halftime. They scored 24 points on USF turnovers.
”We had a lot to go through three weeks ago,” said Eaton, who was voted the tournament’s most outstanding player. ”We were kind of battle tested, and maybe it was a blessing in disguise because a lot of people stepped up big and found their roles on the team through those tough times. You have to be persistent and come ready to play when it counts.”
The Cougars, who reached the NCAA regional semifinals last season, used a 16-0 run in the first half to take a 33-20 lead with 4 1/2 minutes left in the period.
The Dons (19-13), who were led by Taj Winston’s 24 points, missed 10 consecutive shots during that span and trailed by double digits for most of the second half.
Paige Spietz and Taylor Proctor had 10 points apiece for San Francisco.
”Our defensive energy wasn’t what it probably should have been, especially in the first half,” San Francisco coach Jennifer Azzi said. ”We turned it up but just fell short.”
BYU shot 61 percent in the first half and were 13 for 18 on 3-pointers in the game, primarily against a zone. The Cougars had success inside with Bailey, who was 9 for 17 and had eight rebounds, and outside with Eaton and Morrison.
”What we’ve tried to emphasize is take what the defense gives you,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. ”They came out in a zone and we did a great job getting it inside to Morgan, and instead of forcing it up she kicked it out, and Mackenzie was open and hit those shots. Then when they went man to man, Lexi went to her offensive ability, and that’s getting to the basket.”
The Cougars’ tournament title was their first since 2011, but most of the players were on the team that reached the Sweet 16 last season.
”I have a lot of belief in these girls, and they have a lot of heart,” said Bailey, a senior. ”It showed this weekend in Vegas.
”We’re ready to make some noise again.”
BYU: The Cougars became the lowest-seeded team to win the WCC tournament championship.
San Francisco: Dons coach Jennifer Azzi, who went 9-50 in her first two seasons at USF, got her team into the title game for the first time since 1997. Twenty-five seasons ago, Azzi helped lead Stanford to the women’s national championship.
BYU converted on four consecutive possessions, three off turnovers, to complete a 16-0 first-half run. Kylie Maeda made a 3-pointer, Bailey scored inside and Eaton and Maeda sank 3-pointers to give the Cougars a 33-20 lead with under 5 minutes left.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
”Our experienced helped. I have a lot of players that have been in this situation before. They didn’t want to let it slip through their fingers. It’s like getting the cookie in the cookie jar. Make sure you grab it and get it.” – Judkins.