Cameron Muh | Posted: 22 Mar 2021 | Updated: 24 Mar 2021

Harding leads BYU to NCAA Tournament First Round upset over Rutgers, 69-66

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Paisley Johnson-Harding drives against Rutgers defender

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SAN MARCOS, Texas — Led by Paisley Johnson Harding's team-high 28 points, No. 11 seed BYU women's basketball upset No. 6 seed Rutgers 69-66 in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament at Strahan Arena on Monday. 

"First of all, I want to congratulate Rutgers," said BYU head coach Jeff Judkins. "They have a really good team. I think that's the best team we played all year. They are very well coached and very disciplined in what they do. Today the ball bounced our way, especially at the end. I think that's what basketball is so much about, especially in the NCAA Tournament. The ball can bounce your way and make some big differences. You probably notice in the whole Tournament, when the top seed has a game close in the end, it's a lot more pressure on them, more than the underdog and I think that's what happened a little bit today."

BYU vs. Rutgers Final Box Score

The Cougars (19-5, 13-3) had three different players finish in double figures, including Harding with 28 points and five rebounds. Shaylee Gonzales added 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals, while Lauren Gustin contributed 10 points and 11 rebounds for her 15th double-double of the season. Tegan Graham added nine points, going 3 of 4 from deep. 

BYU shot 37% from the field, 39% from 3-point range and 87% from the free throw line to Rutgers’ (14-5, 10-3) 47% from the field, 42% from beyond the arc and 74% from the free throw line. Down seven after three, the Cougars erupted for 26 points in the fourth quarter to seal the game.

Harding got things started for the Cougars, knocking down a corner trey to put BYU up 3-1. After two Shaylee Gonzales free throws, a three-point play by Harding and a short Lauren Gustin jumper, the Cougars led 10-9. 

Rutgers took a 16-11 lead early in the second quarter before BYU fought back as Gonzales hit a baseline jumper, knocked down two free throws, and Harding banked in a three, tying it up at 18-all. 

The Cougars took the lead back on another baseline jumper by Gonzales, extending it on two free throws and a layup by Harding, but the Scarlet Knights closed the half on a 10-0 run to take a lead 30-24 at the half.

BYU shot 32% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc to Rutgers’ 48% from the field and 20% from deep in the first half. Harding led the way with 14 first half points, with Gonzales adding eight points of her own. 

The Cougars opened the second half with Gonzales draining a trey and Hamson getting on the board with a put-back layup, but the Scarlet Knights had an answer for each basket.

Harding and Tegan Graham both knocked down 3-pointers and Harding scored on a reverse layup to then come within six, at 43-37, but a 6-0 Rutgers run stretched the Cougars' deficit to 12. 

Graham then hit a triple and Kaylee Smiler swished a 3, making it a seven-point game going into the fourth quarter. A put-back layup by Gustin, a three-point play and trey by Harding then had the Cougars within three, 54-51, forcing a Scarlet Knight timeout.

After two Harding free throws, BYU took the lead on a Gustin layup, going ahead 55-54. A pair of free throws by Gustin capped a 12-0 Cougar run and a Gustin layup had BYU ahead 59-58 with two minutes remaining.

The Cougars took a four-point lead on a transition triple by Graham. Rutgers answered with a trey of their own, but Gonzales knocked down three free throws after getting fouled on a corner 3-point shot attempt to go ahead 65-61. 

Two Gonzales free throws, a defensive stop, and one more Gonzales free throw all but sealed it, but the Scarlet Knights hit a 3-pointer to make it 68-66, BYU, with 3.8 seconds remaining. 

After one Johnson Harding free throw, the Cougars, with two fouls to give, fouled with 1.3 seconds left. Coming out of a timeout, Rutgers couldn’t get a shot off on time, and BYU held on to win 69-66. 

With the win, the Cougars advance to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament and now await the winner of No. 14 seed Stony Brook and No. 3 seed Arizona. The game will be played on Wednesday, March 24. Tip-off time will be announced at a later time. 

Player Notes

  • Harding led all scorers at the break with 14 points. She finished the game with a team-high 28 points on 8 of 17 shooting, including 4 of 9 from distance. Harding also shot 8 of 10 from the charity stripe. Harding's 28 points tied her season-high and marked her fifth 20-plus point game of the season
  • Gonzales contributed 17 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Gonzales iced the game down the stretch by making 6 of her 7 fourth-quarter free-throw attempts. She shot 10 of 11 from the charity stripe on the game
  • Gustin tallied her 15th double-double of the season, scoring 10 points and pulling down 11 rebounds
  • Graham scored nine points in 31 minutes off the bench, going 3 of 4 from 3-point territory
  • Smiler hit her only shot attempt of the contest, a timely 3-pointer, to fuel BYU in 13 minutes off the bench
  • Hamson added three rebounds, one block and two points for the Cougars

Game Notes

  • BYU shot 37% from the floor, 39% from distance and 87% from the free-throw line. Rutgers went 47% from the floor, 42% from three and 74% from the charity stripe
  • The Cougars dished out 14 assists to the Scarlet Knights’ nine
  • BYU scored 12 fast break points compared to Rutgers’ 10 and had 12 bench points to the Scarlet Knights’ six
  • The Cougars won the turnover battle, 19-20, and had 22 points off turnovers while Rutgers had 13
  • The Scarlet Knights had 13 steals to BYU’s seven and out-rebounded the Cougars, 33-30
  • With the win, BYU has now advanced past the First Round of the NCAA Tournament five times and is 7-13 all-time in NCAA Tournament games
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