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Provo • A scoring drought at the worst possible time cost the BYU women's basketball team dearly on Wednesday afternoon in a women's National Invitation Tournament third-round game at the Marriott Center.
Failing to score in the game's final four minutes and 38 seconds, the Cougars lost 59-55 to West Coast Conference rival Saint Mary's, their season grinding to a halt while the Gaels celebrated a gritty comeback and their second straight WNIT road win.
"We just didn't execute when we need to, and they did," said BYU coach Jeff Judkins.
Saint Mary's will play the winner of Thursday's Utah-Pacific game in a quarterfinal, while the Cougars will wonder what might have been if they had been able to hold a lead in a game they controlled for all but the final five minutes.
The Cougars had a 55-50 lead when Jennifer Hamson scored inside with 4:39 remaining, then went cold, missing their final nine shots. Carli Rosenthal's jumper with 1:20 remaining gave the Gaels a 56-55 lead, and the visitors made three free throws after that while BYU missed shot after shot, several from point-blank range.
"We didn't score. That was the biggest problem," said BYU senior guard Haley Steed, who was 3 for 16 in her final game. "I take a lot of blame for the last five minutes. I had open looks and didn't hit them."
None of the Cougars did, actually.
Judkins said Steed was "tired and beat-up" and a seasonlong problem "the team counted too much on Haley" reared its ugly head in the 34th game.
"She air-balled two shots tonight," Judkins said. "I haven't seen her air-ball two shots the whole year."
Hamson led BYU with 12 points and 12 rebounds, but fouled out with 34 seconds remaining.
The Cougars overcame a miserable start in which they missed their first six shots, and 10 of their first 11, and fell behind 9-2 before putting together a 17-4 run to take control and a 26-22 lead at halftime.
But the Gaels started the second half much like they did the game, and took a 32-31 lead with 14:08 remaining. Every time the Cougars threatened to stretch their lead to double digits, the Gaels scrapped back.
"It was somewhat of an advantage for us to play at 3 o'clock today," said Saint Mary's coach Paul Thomas. "If it was at 7, they probably would have had 1,000 people in here."
Judkins said he wasn't sure why the game was played in the afternoon on a weekday, but wasn't bothered by it.
"It would have been nice, I think, to play at 7, but that didn't cost us the game," he said.
In a nutshell, abysmal shooting did. The Cougars were 5 for 23 from 3-point range, while the Gaels were an efficient 4 of 11. And BYU was 20 for 60 from the field.
"We just seemed a little sluggish," Judkins said.