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Cougars cruise by Pioneers

Big lead slips away; starters preserve win

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PROVO — The scoreboard at the Marriott Center said that the BYU women's basketball team defeated the University of Denver on Saturday afternoon, 70-57. However, the final score didn't reflect the Cougars' domination of the Pioneers, especially in the first half.

BYU raced to a 13-0 lead to open the contest thanks to seven points by Jennifer Leitner and six by Kali Taylor. Denver didn't manage to score until the 15-minute mark on a pair of free throws and didn't earn its first field goal until two minutes after that. By that time, the Cougars were up 21-4.

BYU pushed its lead to 28-4 a few minutes later and at intermission, the Cougars led 43-16. The Pioneers shot a miserable 17 percent (6-for-26) from the field in the half. Moments into the second half, BYU boasted its widest margin of 30 points following a 3-pointer by Erin Thorn to make the score 46-16.

Mercifully, coach Jeff Judkins called off the dogs shortly thereafter. He inserted a number of reserve players, enabling Denver to cut the deficit.

"When you get ahead like that, you try to give other players a chance to play," Judkins explained. "You have to give credit (to Denver) for not quitting. You may think I'm crazy, but I didn't want to run up the score. If I would have left in my starters, we could have won by 60."

Eleven Cougars saw double-digit minutes, including Kestlee Nelson (16 minutes), Jen Overdiek (12), Ambrosia Anderson (12), Nancy Seljaas (10), Brittany Larson (10) and Ashleigh Chamberlain (10) off the bench.

Their inexperience showed.

BYU finished with 30 turnovers — 21 in the second half. In fact, 12 of those giveaways came from five of the six aforementioned players. Seljaas was the only Cougar who didn't commit a turnover. Denver capitalized, scoring 29 points off Cougar miscues.

"Turnovers are killing us," Judkins said. "We have no respect for the ball. It's about mental toughness. That's something we'll be working on in practice."

Overdiek enjoyed the playing time, but acknowledged she and her teammates have a lot to work on.

"We played well in the first half, but we have to be able to put people away and not let them get back into the game. The bench has to come in and play well. The starters get us off to a good start and we need to keep that up. We let down. We need to keep our intensity up."

Denver whittled BYU's lead to 12 late in the game, prompting Judkins put in a few of his starters again to preserve the win.

Leitner led all scorers with 15 points and added five assists. Thorn recorded her first career double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds. Taylor (11) and Danielle Cheesman (10) also scored in double figures.

Ashley Atkinson led Denver in scoring with 12 points.

The Cougars close out their non-conference schedule Tuesday at Idaho State. BYU opens Mountain West Conference play Jan. 16 at home against Colorado State.

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com