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BYU Women’s Basketball Falls To Shorthanded Gonzaga On Buzzer Beater In WCC Title

BYU Cougars guard Maria Albiero (5) swipes at the ball as she and Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Yvonne Ejim (15) battle for the rebound in the finals of the West Coast Conference women's basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – Coming into Tuesday’s WCC Tournament Championship Game, BYU women’s basketball game was squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. But the Cougars had an opportunity to remove the bubble status and clinch an automatic bid to the Big Dance.

Unfortunately for Jeff Judkins and his team that won 18 games this season, came up short in their final game and the final seconds to clinch the auto bid.

No. 16 Gonzaga defeated BYU 43-42 on a last-second buzzer-beater from last year’s WCC Player of the Year, Jill Townsend.

“That’s a tough one,” said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. “One rebound, one defensive stop, you know, but that wasn’t really the game. The game came down that we made some mistakes before that, that we didn’t execute—both offensively and defensively. You’ve got to give Gonzaga a lot of credit. They made the plays they needed to make, and we didn’t.”

Gonzaga was shorthanded coming into the game as six players and additional staff members were dealing with gastroenteritis. None of the players who were battling the stomach virus had any issues with COVID-19.

Regardless of the personnel that was available, the game was a battle featuring the West Coast Conference’s top two teams. Each team struggled on the offensive end in the first half. BYU closed the first half on a buzzer-beater three from Shaylee Gonzales to go into halftime with a 22-13 lead.

Gonzaga shot an ice-cold 17 percent from the half in the first 20 minutes, and that was with BYU center Sara Hamson out for a seven-minute stretch due to an ankle injury she suffered late in the first quarter. She returned midway in the second quarter. Colgate transfer Tegan Graham provided a valuable lift off the bench, replacing Hamson on both ends of the floor.

Paisley Harding started to heat up in the third quarter for BYU as she scored eight of her 12 points in the third period.

BYU was in control of the game for the entire second and third quarter, but the shorthanded Zags made a run at the Cougars late in the game. The Zags trimmed down BYU’s game-high lead of 13 down to three, 36-33 with 7:10 left in the fourth quarter.

BYU’s First Team All-WCC players in Lauren Gustin and Shaylee Gonzales scored back-to-back buckets to put BYU back up by seven. Gonzaga then got stingy on defense and strung together a 5-0 run to leave BYU with a two-point lead with less than two minutes to go.

Tegan Graham fouled out with 1:34 remaining. Gonzaga’s leading scorer Yvonne Ejim made one of two free throws to put BYU’s lead at 40-39. Ejim’s second free throw was a miss, and BYU’s Sara Hamson went up for a rebound with Gonzaga’s Jenn Wirth battling for the ball. The ball went out of bounds and was ruled BYU possession.

After an official review, refs reversed the call and gave Gonzaga possession, but BYU’s defense dug deep and was able to get a stop with a rebound from Lauren Gustin.

WCC Co-Player of the Year Shaylee Gonzales made a backdoor cut off an in-bounds pass to Paisley Harding to score a layup putting BYU up by three with 45.8 seconds remaining.

BYU then had a foul on Maria Albiero off a screen on Wirth. Wirth hit both free throws leaving BYU up by only one. Jeff Judkins had to burn a pair of timeouts for his team that appeared rattled by the moment, and BYU came up scoreless on that possession.

BYU still had a chance to come away with the win. Gonzaga’s Kayleigh Truong missed a layup, but Ejim came away with an offensive rebound that resulted in a held ball with possession staying with the Zags. After a 30 second timeout, and with only 0.6 seconds remaining, Townsend fired off a quick shot and buried it home. After an official review, the basket was clearly before the final horn giving Gonzaga their ninth WCC Tournament Championship in the last 15 years.

BYU finishes the season with an 18-5 record and will now wait to hear their postseason fate when the Women’s NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed on Monday at 5 p.m. on ESPN.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app.

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