This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Las Vegas • At halftime of Monday's West Coast Conference semifinal, prospects for the BYU women's basketball team looked bleak.
The fifth-seeded Cougars trailed top-seeded Gonzaga by 10, knew they had been swept by the taller, stronger Zags in the regular-season, and realized WCC Player of the Year Morgan Bailey was clearly ailing with a bad back and a balky knee.
Some how, some way, coach Jeff Judkins was able to rally his troops by challenging them to reverse the game's momentum on the defensive end. And when role players Makenzi Morrison and Xojian Harry got hot, and all-league guard Lexi Eaton got it going with drives to the hoop and timely kick-outs, the Cougars had discovered the formula to upset the Zags.
Making all the big plays down the stretch, BYU took a 61-55 win at Orleans Arena to advance to Tuesday's championship game against the San Diego-San Francisco winner.
"I am so excited, because our team, we played big-time today," said Eaton.
Morrison went 4-for-6 from 3-point range and led all scorers with 18 points, while Harry added 13 and put the defensive clamps on GU's Sunny Greinacher, who only had two of her team-high 15 in the second half. Sophomore forward Micaelee Orton made a big basket with 1:14 remaining after a nifty lob from Eaton and point guard Kylie Maeda had six assists and just two turnovers against GU's usually wicked full-court press.
"The girls we weren't counting on tonight really stepped it up," Judkins said.
The Cougars trailed 34-22 early in the second half, but held the Zags to just 21 points the rest of the way. Gonzaga shot just 25 percent in the first half after shooting 40 percent in the first half.
"We came out of the first half a little bit frustrated, and there were some plays at the defensive end that didn't go as smoothly as we had hoped," said Morrison, an Alta High product. "We regrouped at halftime and just decided we were going to listen to what was being said, make eye contact with the coaches, and know what we were running on defense."
This time, it was Gonzaga that lost its rhythm a lot like BYU did in a 73-66 loss to the Zags on Feb. 28 in Provo and the pro-Zags crowd stared on in disbelief as the Cougars rallied.
"We lost a little bit of composure and we couldn't hear our own plays," Greinacher said.
Bailey found her second wind after laboring to just get up the court in the first half, and she finished with eight points and nine rebounds.
"Her back is really bothering her," Judkins said. "It has been bothering her for about three weeks. It is tough, but she fought through it. The second half, she looked like herself more. And we gotta have that from her."
Morrison's fourth 3-pointer with 4:53 remaining gave BYU its first lead, 51-50, since her jumper had given it an 8-6 lead in the opening moments, and then Eaton took over as GU had five-straight empty possessions.
Gonzaga's Keani Albanez drilled a 3-pointer with a minute left to get the Zags within two after officials inexplicably ignored a tie-up between Morrison and Greinacher and the Cougars promptly turned the ball over on their inbounds pass.
However, GU gave it right back to BYU, and Eaton hit a pair of free throws with 32 seconds left and Saturday's hero Cassie Broadhead added two more to seal it.
"I thought there were two teams that really wanted it, and the ball bounced our way tonight a little bit for us," Judkins said. "It just was a great effort from both teams. I can't be more proud of our team. We've gone through a lot. To be able to play defense like that in the second half was something that is a coach's dream."
The Cougars (22-9) will play in their third WCC championship game in four years on Tuesday knowing they need a win to get back to the NCAA Tournament via the automatic bid that goes to the champion.
Gonzaga (24-7) is now on the bubble, despite winning the league by two games.
BYU 61, Gonzaga 55
R Trailing by 10 at halftime, the Cougars stage a big comeback to stun the top-seed Zags, 61-55
• BYU sophomore guard Makenzi Morrison goes 4-for-6 from 3-point range and leads all scorers with 18 points
• The Cougars hold the Zags to just 23 points in the second half, and 25 percent shooting
BYU vs. San Francisco
Tuesday, 2 p.m. MDT