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How BYU women’s team upset No. 16 Gonzaga and got a big boost on its NCAA Tournament resume

After beating the Zags, have the Cougars solidified their spot in the Big Dance?

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Shaylee Gonzales finished with a team-high 16 points to go along with seven assists, three steals and three rebounds in the Cougars’ victory over No. 16 Gonzaga on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. Next up for BYU is Portland Saturday afternoon.

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For the BYU women’s basketball team, Thursday’s 61-56 upset of No. 16 Gonzaga extended its winning streak to six — and it was just what the Cougars needed to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume.

A few days earlier, ESPN projected BYU as a No. 11 seed and the last team in the field. 

But after beating the Zags, have the Cougars solidified their spot in the Big Dance? 

“If we can win out,” coach Jeff Judkins told “BYU Sports Nation” Friday morning. “Winning that game definitely gave us a big boost to be able to get into the (NCAA) Tournament.”

The Cougars lost 63-56 at Gonzaga back on Feb. 2. But Thursday at the Marriott Center, BYU made big plays down the stretch. 

“This win is huge for us. After we played Gonzaga the first time, we told ourselves that we don’t lose at home and we were going to beat Gonzaga at home,” said guard Shaylee Gonzales, who finished with a team-high 16 points to go along with seven assists, three steals and three rebounds. “We really locked down because we wanted to fight and win this game. We knew it was super important for us if we wanted to go to the NCAA Tournament and to potentially win the WCC Tournament.

“I’m super proud of my team and how we came together. (Thursday) was a team effort and we looked so good together — working the ball around, everyone hitting their shots, fighting for each other, playing tough defense. We played a great game.”

“I’m very proud of this team. This game has always been like this. Both of us compete so hard,” Judkins said after the game. “Gonzaga is a very good team and they make it difficult. (Thursday) I felt that our bench and their bench were pretty equal, but we just made some plays at the end that got us the win. It was a great team effort.”

Gonzales buried a deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter that gave the Cougars a 47-43 advantage. 

Paisley Johnson Harding added 12 points, including a left-handed layup with 13.7 seconds remaining that sealed the win for the Cougars. 

“There were still 44 seconds left in the game and they wanted us to run the clock just a bit,” Harding said. “We got set in our play, I went and drove and they kind of stopped me. And then I realized the shot clock was still winding down, so I needed to attack. I went up with a little left-handed floater, and luckily it went in. That was so much fun.”

Meanwhile, Lauren Gustin recorded her 11th double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Sara Hamson chipped in 10 points as well as a game-high five blocks and five rebounds. 

BYU led by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter and managed to stave off the Zags late. 

Gonzaga cut the deficit to one point with 44.4 seconds left before Harding’s shot put the Cougars up by three. BYU then got a key defensive stop and Harding hit a couple of free throws to preserve the win. 

The Cougars (15-3, 11-2) improved to 8-0 at home this season. 

“I think both we and Gonzaga didn’t play our best, but we respect each other. This game has always been like this. Both of us compete so hard,” Judkins said. “... It was a great team effort. We had a hard time with the ball screen. We did better in the second half and didn’t give them as many second and third opportunities. This is how this game has been since I’ve been here. It’s a dogfight and it’s a game you look forward to. It’s a game as a coach and as players you look forward to and I’m really proud of them. Paisley had a big-time basket in the clutch, and it was awesome.”

BYU hosts Portland Saturday at 2 p.m. The game will be televised by BYUtv.