LAS VEGAS — On paper, it figured to be a mismatch Friday afternoon in the West Coast Conference tournament quarterfinals between the top-seeded BYU women and No. 9 Pepperdine at Orleans Arena.
The Cougars won 16 conference games in the regular season while the Waves won only two. Plus, Pepperdine was down its leading scorer due to an injury.
Yet after the first quarter the game was tied at 14.
But starting with the second quarter, BYU capitalized on some individual mismatches with guard Lexi Rydalch and forward Kalani Purcell as the Cougars cruised to a 72-59 victory.
BYU advances to the WCC tournament semifinals, where it will face No. 4 Santa Clara Monday (1 p.m., MST, BYUtv). The Broncos eliminated No. 5 Gonzaga Thursday, 59-58.
Against Pepperdine, Rydalch and Purcell came close to registering triple doubles. Rydalch finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and five steals while Purcell recorded 19 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
“You’ve got to hand it to BYU. It’s a heckuva team. Very well coached,” said Pepperdine coach Ryan Weisenberg. “They played hard from the get-go. They have two of the best players — Lexi and Kalani. We did our best to slow them down. Our best just wasn’t good enough.”
In the first quarter, BYU shot just 27 percent and the Waves hung in their with the regular-season conference champions.
Then the Cougars went on a 12-0 run early in the second quarter to go up 26-14 and take control of the game.
“We were getting good looks, we just weren’t hitting them,” said Pepperdine’s Kelsy Brockway, who scored a team-high 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “That created that gap. We couldn’t get consistent scoring in the second quarter.”
BYU coach Jeff Judkins was impressed with the way Pepperdine fought in the face of adversity.
“I want to congratulate Pepperdine. They really played a great tournament, losing two of their best players,” he said. “Tonight wasn’t the best that we’ve played but as a team we’ve learned to play together and win the game. Kalani had a nice second half for us. She was a hard matchup for them with her inside presence.”
The Cougars outscored the Waves in the second quarter, 16-6, and 25-15 in the third quarter. The Cougars led by as many as 27 points early in the fourth quarter.
“Defensively, it was a great second quarter holding them to six points,” Judkins said. “That’s what our team’s about — defending, taking care of the ball and getting the ball to (the scorers) … Kalani has had 17 games where she’s one or two assists away from a triple-double. Tonight, she was two assists away. People don’t realize that.”
Judkins seemed even more pleased that Purcell had only three turnovers in 38 minutes played.
In the second and third quarters, “we came out with a more determined mindset and we focused on the small things we needed to do,” Purcell said.
“She really takes advantages of those mismatches and played a great game,” Rydalch said of Purcell. “For us to be successful, she needs to be attacking in all those areas. She’s a huge part of our team.”
BYU improved to 25-5 on the season while Pepperdine finished its season with a 7-24 record.
Cougar guard Makenzi Pulsipher had a rough night shooting, hitting just 2 of 11 from the floor, but she was fine with seeing Purcell and Rydalch do their thing.
“We found other ways to score. We had a lot of mismatches with Kalani inside,” Pulsipher said. “Going to Lexi and Kalani was definitely our way of attacking this team. Whatever it takes to win. My shots didn’t fall but I had teammates that put them back in, which is just as good as (making) a shot.”
Brockway said her team was prepared to face Rydalch and Purcell.
“We had a scouting report that we looked through and we were ready for them,” she said. “But obviously, Lexi’s the player of the year and Kalani’s the newcomer of the year. They’re going to score. I’m proud of my teammates for fighting.”
BYU entered the tournament coming off a disappointing blowout loss at Gonzaga last Saturday. The Cougars were eager to play Friday.
“That was a tough loss for us. We really wanted to come into this tournament with momentum and confidence. It was good to get the jitters out,” Rydalch said. “A few girls haven’t played in this tournament before and they were nervous. They found a rhythm. I noticed that they weren’t themselves. I went up to a couple of them and told them to loosen up.”
Once the Cougars were able to loosen up, they were able to put distance between themselves and the Waves and advance to the semifinals.
“I was pretty excited, probably the most anxious and nervous I’ve been in a long time for a game,” Pulsipher said. “It’s because it’s the conference tournament and this is what we’ve played all season for. I definitely had those butterflies. We had a rough loss the week before and we wanted to get back on track. We were excited to get on the floor.”