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BYU women’s basketball: Johnson, Albiero set the pace in Cougars’ win over Pacific

Paisley Johnson delivered on the extra motivation given her prior to Saturday’s matchup versus the Tigers.

BYU’s Paisley Johnson brings the ball down the court on offense during the Cougars’ 65-54 win over Pacific at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.
Tyler Richardson, BYU

PROVO — Give Paisley Johnson an extra jolt of motivation and it’s often bad news for BYU’s opponent.

Case in point would be Johnson’s preparation for taking on Pacific on Saturday, a game the Cougars ultimately won 65-54. Prior to the game, BYU coach Jeff Judkins pointed out just how good Pacific guard Valerie Higgins was to Johnson, who is well-regarded as the Cougars’ best on-ball perimeter defender, along with being named the West Coast Conference Tournament MVP a year ago.

“Coming into this game, there’s one thing that pushed my buttons. He said that Valerie was the best player in our conference,” Johnson said. “So I can respect her game, but I think on our squad we have the best player, so I was definitely going to take it to her.”

Johnson was matched up with Higgins throughout Saturday’s game, with Higgins’ stat line of just eight points on 2 for 9 shooting from the field largely speaking for itself.

“I was going to D her up and not do what she wanted to do, because in this game I want to be the best player in the conference,” Johnson said while smiling big at the fact that she absolutely backed up her words.

Johnson was great on both ends in Saturday’s win, scoring a team-high 24 points while dishing out five assists in her 40 minutes of play. But the junior guard had help — quite a bit of it, turns out.

From the start, it was 6-foot-7 center Sara Hamson again disrupting just about everything down low, leading to six blocked shots in the first half while forcing several more misses. But throughout it all, Pacific fought through a lot of it, ending the first half down just 27-26.

The teams slugged it out throughout the third quarter before Cougar guard Maria Albiero gave the Cougars a big lift — ultimately separating her team from the Tigers for good during the initial stages of the fourth quarter. Two big 3-pointers made by the junior guard loomed large in giving BYU back the lead and in helping it withstand a late run.

“I was so happy for her, because she’s worked so hard shooting to have the kind of game she had tonight when we needed it the most,” said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. “I’m so proud of her. She had a great week.”

Albiero finished Saturday’s game with not only 13 points, but a career-high eight assists to go along with her always tenacious defense.

“The effort and motivation by Maria lifts everyone on our team,” Johnson said. “... The fact she was able to pick up points ... and step up in a big game like this is just phenomenal, and it’s all on her because of how she’s prepared.”

With the win, BYU improves to 15-9 overall and 10-4 in West Coast Conference play, with just four games remaining on the regular season. The goal from here on out is to finish second to Gonzaga in conference in order to position itself well in the WCC tournament.

“All we can do is focus and control what we can control, and that’s by winning these next four games,” Johnson said.