PROVO — After Brigham Young's blowout victory over nationally ranked Gonzaga last week, head coach Jeff Judkins had a warning for his team. He mentioned that the win's meaning could be seriously lessened if his team didn't take care of business in its three remaining home games.
Judkins' admonition became reality when the No. 23 Cougars (2205, 10-3 West Coast Conference) fell to visiting San Francisco, 71-64, Thursday night at the Marriott Center.
"We prepared for this; I tried to tell them," Judkins said after BYU trailed by as many as 13 in the second half before pulling to within a single point in the game's final minute. "As happy as I was last week, I'm as disappointed tonight."
For San Francisco (5-22, 3-11), it's a culmination of sorts of a season of hard work.
"It's not just that it was against a great team like BYU on their home court, it's about all their hard work, because we've made a ton of progress this season," San Francisco head coach Jennifer Azzi said. "It means so much, and it's good momentum for us going into the tournament."
The Cougars began the game hitting six of their first nine shots while forging a 12-5 lead.
Azzi said her team's struggles to begin the game were something she knew could be fixed.
"It's not that it was anything technical we were doing wrong," she said. "We just were not mentally present. But our team really believed that they could win, and that's a big part of it."
But they promptly followed that up by going just 4-of-14 from the field and letting the Dons back into the game.
San Francisco tied it at 28 on Jamie Katuna's 8-foot jumper and took the lead on Katy Keating's 3-pointer.
Coming out of the locker room at halftime, down 35-32, it seemed the Cougars could only improve on their 35 percent first-half shooting performance. But BYU continued its slump, falling behind 52-39 midway through the second half and actually shooting for a worse percentage in the final 20 minutes (27 percent).
The Cougars fought their way back, down just 63-61 after Haley Steed's basket and free throw with 30 seconds left.
Steed nailed a 3-pointer eight seconds later to pull BYU to within one at 65-64. But the Dons were 6-of-6 on free throws in the final seconds, and Stephanie Vermunt's 3-point attempt to tie the game barely missed.
"I'm proud of how our team fought back, but you can't shoot 31 percent and expect to win the game," Judkins said.
Katuna had a game-high 21 points, while teammate Rheina Ale finished with 17 points and six rebounds. Keating contributed 14 points, and Mel Khlok had 12.
The Cougars were led by Kristen Riley's double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds), and Steed finished with 15 points, six assists and seven rebounds. Lexi Eaton put in 12 points.
"It's hard, but this is the time to feed off each other's energy," Eaton said.
BYU hosts San Diego Saturday at 1 p.m.