LAS VEGAS — The No. 5-seeded BYU women’s basketball team entered the West Coast Conference tournament on a three-game losing streak and had dropped six of its previous eight games.
But in their 74-59 second-round victory over No. 9 Pepperdine Friday afternoon at Orleans Arena, the Cougars left nothing to chance against a team that surprised them at the Marriott Center on Feb. 9.
“I felt like our girls really came and competed and played for each other. Foul trouble in the first half could have rattled them really easily but they stayed locked in and stayed together and stayed the course. I’m really proud of them.” — BYU coach Amber Whiting
That night, the Waves edged BYU 64-63 in overtime.
“I felt like our girls really came and competed and played for each other,” said coach Amber Whiting. “Foul trouble in the first half could have rattled them really easily but they stayed locked in and stayed together and stayed the course. I’m really proud of them.”
BYU controlled the game both inside and outside and led by as many as 20 points late in the third quarter.
Guard Nani Falatea and Lauren Gustin scored a game-high 23 points apiece. Falatea dished out seven assists and knocked down 4 of 10 3-pointers, while Arielle Mackey-Williams finished with 14 points and Emma Calvert added seven.
Gustin pulled down 18 rebounds, which tied a WCC tournament record.
“Emma and Lauren were dominating inside and that opened things up,” Falatea said. “When they do well, everyone starts collapsing on them and it leaves some things open for me.”
With the win, BYU (15-15) takes on No. 4 seed San Francisco Saturday (2 p.m. MST, BYUtv) in the WCC tournament quarterfinals.
As for Pepperdine (11-19), it has been dealing with this week’s departure of coach Kristen Dowling after four seasons at the helm.
“BYU’s a tough out,” said Waves acting head coach Brian Rosario. “Coming into the game, we knew we were coming off a win at their place, which is the first time Pepperdine’s ever won (in Provo) on the road. But understanding with that rest day, (the Cougars are) coming in inspired and ready to play. I’m just proud of our team and our coaches.”
The Cougars led the Waves 34-27 at halftime and Pepperdine traded baskets with BYU early in the third period. Then the Cougars went on a decisive 15-2 run, which featured eight straight points by Falatea, including back-to-back 3-pointers.
“By the third quarter, we were a little more settled in,” Gustin said. “At halftime, we talked about some things we needed to work on. We came out with the mentality of, we just want to win. We all stepped up and came together.”
Early in the game, Gustin found herself in some foul trouble but she and the Cougars remained aggressive.
“Credit my teammates for getting me the ball and just having faith and confidence in me down there,” Gustin said. “I feel like they put me in a lot of good positions with Nani hitting shots. They have to worry about that. I think it was just everyone contributing to that.”
Pepperdine’s Theresa Grace Mbanefo, who finished with a team-high 18 points, credited Gustin.
“Gustin’s really good at capitalizing on defensive mistakes,” Mbanefo said. “She does her work early. That showed today and we didn’t have an answer for it. She’s a great player. Congrats to BYU.”
The Cougars move on to face USF. BYU split the regular-season series with the Dons. San Francisco beat BYU in their most recent meeting at USF on Feb. 18, when the Dons earned a 72-59 victory.
BYU is counting on an improved defensive performance this time.
“Defense first. The last time we played them, our defense wasn’t up to par,” Falatea said. “It wasn’t up to the standards we hold ourselves to. Tomorrow’s all going to be about defense.”
Whiting echoed those sentiments.
“Defense creates offense. When we were there just barely, we didn’t take care of defense. We’re going to make sure our game plan is set,” she said. “Also, these girls came to fight in this tournament and they’re ready for it. They’ve had some really big character-building things that have happened lately to them. So I’m excited about what they’re going to bring tomorrow.”