This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Las Vegas • There's talk that the West Coast Conference will move its basketball tournaments out of Orleans Arena next year, after eight postseasons at this 8,000-seat venue a few blocks west of the famed Las Vegas Strip.
That won't necessarily be a good thing for the BYU women's basketball team.
Shooting 51 percent overall and making 12 of 24 3-point attempts, BYU solved Santa Clara's swarming zone defense and physical, full-court pressure tactics after some shaky early moments and buried the Broncos 87-67 on Monday afternoon in the first semifinal.
"For some reason we like shooting in this arena," said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. "We've always shot well here. I don't know why that is."
A lot of it has to do with the fact that Judkins' has deadly shooters, seniors like Lexi Rydalch and Kylie Maeda and juniors like Kalani Purcell and Makenzi Pulsipher.
Rydalch led all scorers with 25 points and moved into a tie with Hank Gathers, 2,490 points, on the WCC's all-time scoring list, regardless of gender. She also passed Danny Ainge (2,467), Judkins noted in the postgame news conference.
"It is kind of mind-blowing," Rydalch said of tying Gathers. "He is such a legend. It is an honor to be in the same category as him."
Purcell also flirted with history on Monday, grabbing 17 rebounds to come up one short of the tournament record. The Cougars out-rebounded the Broncos 38-32 and outscored them despite taking 14 fewer shots. Rydalch also had eight boards from her guard position.
"That's a great achievement," Judkins said of Rydalch becoming the all-time scoring leader in the league, which should happen Tuesday. "It has been great having Lexi for five years. I mean, coach's dream. I am going to miss her."
The senior wasn't BYU's only star, however.
Pulsipher heated up after a slow shooting start and finished with 17, including an 8-for-10 performance from the free-throw line; Maeda was 4 for 6 from 3-point range en route to 16 points, and also added five assists in just 28 minutes as Judkins turned to reserve point guard Cassie Broadhead at times to combat SCU's zone with a bigger, stronger player.
Broadhead delivered 11 points and three assists with no turnovers, while Micaelee Orton chipped in seven after getting the start in the second half and scoring four quick points to stem SCU's early third-quarter momentum. BYU's bench outscored SCU's thin bench 21-5 in beating the Broncos for the third time.
"I think our lack of depth hurt us," said Santa Clara coach JR Payne, the former Southern Utah coach. "…You go down [BYU's] roster and they have about eight kids who can shoot the lights out."
Former Cyprus star Lori Parkinson, who followed Payne from SUU to SCU, led the Broncos with 24 on 9 of 18 shooting and said it felt good to play well against BYU because "they kinda passed up on me" in the recruiting process.
Having led 32-27 at halftime, the Cougars looked to be in a speck of trouble when SCU sprung a full-court trap and cashed in with four quick points to start the third quarter. But Orton scored her points and Rydalch and Maeda followed with back-to-back 3-pointers, and BYU was cruising again.
"That zone is tough," Judkins said. "You don't realize it until you get out there and try and attack it. It doesn't look too hard in the stands. It is a lot harder out on the floor. I thought my team really handled themselves well."
Indeed, the Cougars committed just four turnovers in the second half after 11 in the first.
"I think we were a little bit jittery at the start, and Santa Clara does a really good job at starting games with a ton of energy and pressure," said Rydalch, who got in a minor stare down with SCU's Taylor Berry after a hard foul. "So we adjusted to that, told each other to take a couple deep breaths, and relaxed."
The defending champion Cougars (26-5) will appear in their fourth championship game in their five seasons in the league on Tuesday (2 p.m. MST, ESPNU) against San Francisco (20-11), a team they swept in the regular season. The league's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament is at stake, but with an RPI of 16 and a regular-season championship by two games in a conference that ranks eighth-best in the country, BYU's ticket has likely already been punched.
Still, said Rydalch, "We're not even close to being satisfied."
R Lexi Rydalch scores a game-high 25 points and moves into a tie with Hank Gathers for most points, any gender, in WCC history (2,490).
• Kalani Purcell grabs 17 rebounds, one shy of the WCC women's basketball tournament record.
• The Cougars improve to 26-5, advance to the championship game for the fourth time in five years and will meet San Francisco on Tuesday at 2 p.m. MST for the title