LAS VEGAS (ABC4 Sports) – The BYU women’s basketball team was less than a second away from clinching a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, they’ll have to sweat it out on Monday.
Jill Townsend hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer for Gonzaga, as the Bulldogs knocked off the Cougars to win the West Coast Conference Tournament championship, 43-42.
“It was a tough loss,” said BYU head coach Jeff Judkins. “You’ve got to give Gonzaga a lot of credit. I’m proud of my girls. I thought they played their hearts out. It was a very defensive, physical game. We’re going to learn from it and get better and understand what we need to do when it comes down this.”
Shaylee Gonzales led the Cougars (18-5, 14-4) with 13 points, four steals and three rebounds, while Paisley Johnson Harding added 12 points, five rebounds, three steals and three assists. Lauren Gustin contributed eight points and a game-high 13 rebounds and Tegan Graham tallied seven points and three rebounds.
Gonzaga was playing without six players, who had contracted gastroenteritis.
BYU held Gonzaga (23-3, 18-1) to just 29 percent shooting in the game while recording a 35 percent shooting clip of its own. The Cougars led 36-27 heading into the final quarter but couldn’t quite hold on, as Townsend caught an inbounds pass with 0.6 seconds left and hit the game-winning jumper.
With BYU up nine at the start of the fourth, six straight points from the Bulldogs’ Yvonne Ejim brought Gonzaga within three, 36-33, three minutes into the quarter. Gustin ended a five-minute BYU scoring drought with a basket down low to put the Cougars back up five, 38-33, midway through the period. A Gonzales layup at the shot-clock buzzer gave BYU a seven-point lead, 40-33 with 3:35 left.
The Bulldogs used a 6-0 run to cut their deficit to one, 40-39, with 1:34 remaining. On the ensuing BYU possession, Gonzales passed the ball to Harding on an inbounds play and Harding passed it right back for a Gonzales layup, putting the Cougars up 42-39 with 44 seconds left. A Maria Albiero foul then sent Gonzaga’s Jenn Wirth to the free throw line, and Wirth knocked down both attempts to bring the Bulldogs back within one, 42-41.
With 10 seconds separating the shot and game clocks, Harding just missed a driving layup near the shot-clock buzzer and Wirth grabbed the rebound with eight seconds left. On the ensuing possession, BYU forced a missed layup but Sara Hamson and Ejim fought for the rebound, resulting in a jump ball with 0.6 seconds left. With the possession arrow favoring the Bulldogs, Townsend caught the following inbounds pass, turned, and hit the game-winner over Hamson to take the 43-42 win and the WCC Tournament championship.
“Well, I told them I was proud of them,” Judkins said. “I told them we were point six seconds away from winning a championship. It’s hard for me to believe you can fumble it and get a shot off with point six seconds, but I guess that’s what it is.”
The Cougars now await their postseason fate, with the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Selection Show taking place on Monday, March 15.