The Gonzaga Bulldogs exorcised their BYU Cougar demons from this season, defeating them in the WCC Championship, 71-59, and earning a crucial automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament for the fifth-straight year.
After foul trouble limited Melody Kempton’s minutes in the semifinals against San Francisco, she came out hot, scoring six points early in the first quarter. That effort, alongside the rest of the team, helped dictate Gonzaga’s pace early, as the Zags rattled off an 8-0 run to take an early lead.
Halfway through the first quarter, the roles reversed to a certain extent. The Gonzaga offense went cold, scoring zero points in the final three minutes. However, the defense was holding up its end of the bargain. Paisley Harding led the Cougars with five points, but her and Shaylee Gonzales combined for 2-of-9 shooting from the floor. Gonzaga took a 16-12 lead going into the second quarter.
As is the case when these two teams meet, offense suddenly became hard to come by in the second quarter. The Zags continued to build upon their lead by grinding for fouls, generating four free points at the charity stripe compared to BYU’s zero. That would largely prove the difference, as the Zags outscored the Cougars 13-9 in the second quarter to take a 29-21 lead into halftime.
Gonzaga continued its attack from all angles in the third quarter. Anamaria Virjoghe and Abby O’Connor chipped in crucial points to keep the offensive machine moving forward. Although BYU struggled from the floor, they were largely able to keep pace thanks to second-chance points off of seven third quarter offensive rebounds, and Gonzaga entered the fourth quarter clinging to a 43-38 lead.
The Zags opened up the fourth quarter on a roll, backed by a couple of three pointers by Kaylynne Truong to quickly increase the lead to 10 points.
It was a gritty win by the Zags. Every time BYU tried to mount a comeback, the Zags had the answer when they needed it most. Four Zags scored in double-figures led by Kempton’s 15 points, and Gonzaga held BYU to 32 percent shooting over all.
The win demonstrated how Gonzaga can be an incredibly tough out in the NCAA Tournament, and will now allow the team to rest completely easily for the rest of the week and weekend. BYU is in the tournament no matter what, but the Zags were squarely on the bubble, and if it popped the wrong way, they might have slipped off.
That is no longer the case. After getting walloped by BYU the second time around this season, this win has to feel extra special for the Zags.