We’ve been waiting for the Gonzaga Bulldogs to play the BYU Cougars for quite some time, and it turned out to be more than worth the weight. Cierra Walker and Jill Townsend hit clutch shots in the final two minutes to give the Zags the big win, 63-56.
The game started out as an absolute brawler, with both teams trading buckets and Gonzaga taking a one point lead into the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, it was all Gonzaga all the time. Even with LeeAnne Wirth sitting for much of the second quarter with three fouls, the Zags went on one of their patented big runs, outscoring BYU 18-2 in seven minutes to take 34-22 lead into halftime.
As is generally the case, the Zags’ defense put the clamps on BYU’s scorers. Shaylee Gonzalez, who is averaging 17.8 points per game, finished with 12 points, shooting just 5-of-15 in the process. Lauren Gustin, the walking double-double machine, grabbed her 10 rebounds but scored only four points, well below her average of 12.3 points per game.
The BYU offensive machine is potent, however, and they slowly but surely chipped away at Gonzaga’s lead, before a big fourth quarter run tied the game. Tegan Graham, who shoots 50% from three point range, found her stroke, and an ill-timed technical from Cierra Walker set the stage for the BYU comeback. While trotting up the court, Walker got into a little minor dustup, with the back of a BYU player and earned the clear technical. Two Paisley Harding free throws and a Lauren Gustin layup later, BYU trailed by one point, 51-52, with 2:38 remaining and momentum in their favor.
But the Zags have Jill Townsend. Townsend hit one of her patented mid-range jumpers to hold off the BYU onslaught, and Gonzalez followed it up with her first (and very well timed) three of the game to tie it at 54-54.
Walker was not going to let the technical define her game, however. She hit two monster threes from virtually the same spot in the corner on back-to-back possessions to give the Zags a six point lead with one minute left, and ultimately, the game.
Townsend led all Zags with 18 points. Kayleigh Truong added 11, and like most Gonzaga games, it was death by a thousand cuts. The Zags held BYU to just 38.6 percent from the floor and forced 16 turnovers.
Most importantly, it was a statement win for the top team in the WCC. If there was a squad in the West Coast Conference that could hang with Gonzaga, it was BYU. The Cougars almost did, but ultimately, Gonzaga’s shooters hit the big shots to give the women the win.
The Zags have a bit of time off and won’t play again until they take on the San Francisco Dons on Feb. 11.