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BYU women advance to another WCC championship game after routing Santa Clara

LAS VEGAS — At the start of the third quarter Monday afternoon in the West Coast Conference women's semifinals, No. 4 seed Santa Clara threw a full-court press at top-seed BYU.

It worked early on, as the Broncos cut their deficit to one point.

But the Cougars figured out the press, hit big shots and rolled to an 87-67 victory at Orleans Arena.

With the win, BYU advanced to the WCC championship game for the second consecutive season. The Cougars are seeking back-to-back WCC tournament titles.

BYU faces No. 6 seed San Francisco Tuesday (2 p.m., MST, ESPNU). The Dons upset No. 2 Saint Mary's 67-65 in the other semifinal matchup.

“We’re really excited. We love the championship game,” said guard Lexi Rydalch, who scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds against the Broncos. “That’s what we work for all season. We’re excited to defend it. We’ll go get some rest and get refreshed (for Tuesday) and leave it all out on the court.”

BYU (26-5) led at halftime 32-27 when Santa Clara turned to the press.

“The key was the third quarter. They came out and jumped on us quick,” said coach Jeff Judkins. “I looked at my girls and I knew that they were all right. They believed in themselves. They did a great job. I’m really proud of them.”

Judkins drew up a way to beat the press and it was effective.

“We changed it up. I put in a different formation in the press attack on the fly,” Judkins said. “That’s what these guys have been great at this year. I tell them to do something and they do it. We did a good job of spreading it out.”

In the third quarter, BYU hit all 11 of its free throw attempts. Then in the fourth period, the Cougars pulled away from Santa Clara by drilling 10 of 13 shots from the field, including 5 of 6 attempts from 3-point territory.

“At the start of the third quarter we had a chance to either fold or be tough,” Rydalch said. “I think we responded really well. We played loose and free and that’s when our shots started falling.”

Rydalch and Kyle Maeda, who finished with 16 points, each knocked down four 3-pointers on the day and Makenzi Pulsipher (17 points) hit three 3-pointers. Cassie Broadhead came of the bench to score 11 points. Kalani Purcell scored eight points and pulled down 17 rebounds, one short of the WCC tournament record.

BYU made its first four 3-point attempts of the game and ended up going 12 of 24 from 3-point territory — which is exactly what the Cougars needed against Santa Clara’s tough zone defense.

“That zone is tough. You don’t realize it until you try to attack it,” Judkins said. “I thought my team really handled themselves well.”

Since BYU joined the WCC five years ago, it has been able to shoot well at Orleans Arena.

“For some reason, we like shooting in this arena. We’ve always shot well here,” Judkins said. “Sometimes certain teams like to shoot in different arenas and we seem to shoot well here.”

Santa Clara coach JR Payne said the Cougars’ ability to score from long range is one of the reasons they are tough to defend.

“You go down their roster and they have about eight kids who can shoot the lights out, which, against a zone is challenging,” said Payne, who previously coached at Southern Utah. "They also have Purcell on the glass, which makes a big difference.”

Meanwhile, Santa Clara forward Lori Parkinson, a former Cyprus High star, scored a team-high 24 points. Marie Bertholdt recorded a double-double with 20 points and 10 boards.

Parkinson enjoyed matching up with a team from her home state.

“It was kind of cool because you hear about BYU being dominant,” Parkinson said. “It gives you a little more of an extra fight to play hard.”

The Broncos (23-8) are expected to receive an invitation to the WNIT.

BYU’s Micaelee Orton scored seven points in 13 minutes and started the second half. Judkins said he put her on the floor at the start of the third quarter because of her experience.

“She played really well,” Judkins said. “She came in and gave us a good lift.”

Before tipoff of the Saint Mary's-San Francisco game, Judkins was asked his assessment of both possible opponents in the championship game.

“They’re both headaches,” Judkins said. “We played very well against both of them. It will be a dogfight.”