LAS VEGAS – The No. 15 BYU women’s basketball team fought through a tough defensive battle to beat Portland 59-52 in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament on Monday afternoon at the Orleans Arena.
The No. 1 seed Cougars (26-2) will play in tomorrow’s championship game against No. 2 seed Gonzaga at 1 p.m. PT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
"I am really proud if my team," BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. "I told them at the beginning of the year and they really took it to heart; defense wins championships. There are some nights the ball doesn't go in and you have to defend and you have to do different things and I thought we did that today."
Trailing 46-45 with just over four minutes remaining, BYU went on a 7-0 run thanks to a Shaylee Gonzales layup, two free throws from Paisley Harding and a big 3-point shot from Maria Albiero in the corner to go up 52-46 with two minutes to go.
Portland cut the lead to two points but the Cougars iced the game at the free throw line, making seven freebies to win it down the stretch.
Senior Tegan Graham had a double-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Graham also set the tone defensively with two early blocks and a steal.
Gonzales led all scorers with 20 points and had six rebounds. Harding added 14 points, five rebounds and a steal while Lauren Gustin snagged 10 boards.
Harding and Albiero both played in their 144th game of their careers, setting the record for most games played at BYU.
Neither team shot the ball well, with BYU hitting at a 35.0 percent clip for the game while Portland was limited to 31.6 percent from the field. Both teams shot under 30 percent from downtown.
Despite giving up eight offensive boards and 11 second-chance points in the first half to the Pilots, the Cougars outrebounded Portland 47-36 for the game, including 17 on the offensive glass.
BYU didn’t give up any second-chance points in the second half and surrendered zero offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter.
After one quarter of play, BYU trailed 15-13. Midway through the second, Kaylee Smiler knocked down a triple off the bench to put BYU in front 23-21 with just under five minutes until halftime. The make was part of an 10-0 run that pushed the lead to 27-21 inside of three minutes.
The Pilots came back though thanks to hitting the offensive glass, grabbing seven offensive boards and scoring nine second-chance points in the quarter. BYU took a 31-30 lead at halftime.
A 10-9 third quarter in favor of the Pilots had the game knotted up at 40-40 heading into the fourth quarter.
A backdoor pass from Harding to Albiero for a reverse layup started the fourth with a bucket and Portland answered back with a layup of their own. One free throw make for the Pilots was all the scoring action over the next four minutes with both teams in a drought but Portland up 43-42.
After a trey from the Pilots, Graham hit one on the other end keeping it a one-point deficit at 46-45 with under five to play.
BYU’s defense got another stop and Gonzales scored cutting under the hoop to take the lead 47-46. Harding added two free throws and the Cougars were back in front 49-46 with 3:05 to go.
Gustin pulled down a rebound for another stop and Albiero drained a trey from the corner on the other end for a 52-46 lead as part of a 10-0 Cougar run with just over two minutes to go.
Portland cut it to 54-51 with 30 seconds left but the Cougars put the game away at the free throw line, going on to win 59-52 to advance to the championship game.
BYU will play Gonzaga for the WCC Tournament Championship Tuesday at 1 p.m. PT. The game will be televised on ESPNU and also broadcast on BYU Radio Sirius XM 143 and 107.9 FM/BYUCougars.com/liveradio and the BYU Cougars App.