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BYU women's basketball: Cougars top St. Joseph’s, 71-56, in tournament semifinals

Senior Kristine Nielson’s career-high 15 points lifted BYU women’s basketball to a 71-56 semifinal victory at the UNM Thanksgiving Tournament on Friday night in Albuquerque.

“What a great game by both Micaelee (Orton) and Kristine. They were keys to our team winning today,” BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. "We made some big plays both offensively and defensively. Cassie (Broadhead) continues to be a good player for us and Makenzi (Pulsipher) is always solid."

BYU (2-2) outshot St. Joseph’s (1-4), 44 percent to 35 percent, on the night as five players scored double digits. Behind Nielson’s 15, junior Cassie Broadhead had 14 points and five assists. Seniors Makenzi Pulsipher and Kalani Purcell both added 12 points, while Purcell pulled down 11 rebounds. Senior Micaelee Orton contributed a career-high 10 points off the bench, including seven in the first half, and tied her career-high six rebounds.

The Cougars started the game off on a 9-0 run with 3-pointers from Broadhead, Pulsipher and Nielson. They held the Hawks scoreless for the first five minutes of the game before St. Joseph’s hit two-consecutive layups to trail 9-4. BYU maintained a lead of at least five points through the rest of the quarter, ending the period with an eight-point lead, 20-12.

A layup from Purcell boosted the Cougars’ lead to double digits, 22-12, with 8:50 left in the second quarter. St. Joseph’s fought back and cut the lead down to nine points with 4:37 on the clock, but BYU refused to let up. The Cougars shot an impressive 14-of-17 from the charity stripe, including eight-consecutive free throw shots from Purcell, Pulsipher, Broadhead, Orton and Nielson. BYU also shot 40 percent from the beyond the arc en route to a 13-point 36-23 lead at halftime.

St. Joseph’s came out of the locker room fired up and ready to go, dominating the third quarter on a 17-6 run to come back from a 17-point deficit. The Hawks took their first lead of the game on a jumper with 36 seconds left in the period before a pair of free throws from Broadhead tied it and then gave the Cougars a one-point advantage, 48-47, to end the quarter.

After a scoreless three and a half minutes to open the fourth period, the BYU responded to St. Joseph’s offensive outburst with a 10-2 run of its own and a nine-point lead halfway through the quarter, 58-49.

The Cougars continued to pull ahead, going on a 20-4 run to close the game out. BYU’s largest lead of 19 points came with 2:10 left before a St. Joseph's jumper and three free throws reduced the gap to 15. The Cougars finished the game on top, 71-56.

BYU will play either Tulsa or tournament host New Mexico on Saturday, Nov. 26, at either 12 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. MT.