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Las Vegas • When her team's unlikely run through the West Coast Conference women's basketball tournament produced one more remarkable result Tuesday afternoon, San Francisco coach Jennifer Azzi took the microphone and declared, "It's not an accident."
Whatever the description, the Dons' strong finish left the BYU Cougars shaken. USF scored the game's last six points in a 70-68 victory in the championship game at Orleans Arena, advancing to the NCAA Tournament in the pinnacle of Azzi's six seasons on the job.
The former point guard for the Utah Starzz of the WNBA outcoached ex-Utah Jazz forward Jeff Judkins at the end of a game that left Azzi "absolutely, honestly, speechless right now," she said.
The Dons took down each of the WCC's top three seeds in reverse order and less spectacular fashion as they went along, actually. USF's run began with Taylor Proctor's banked-in 3-pointer to force overtime against San Diego, then the Dons topped Saint Mary's and BYU by two points each.
"This is what we've wanted for years," Azzi said, explaining her "no accident" observation. "I don't think any of us are shocked by this, because it's what we've worked for. Needless to say, the stars also have to be aligned."
BYU's star player was off Tuesday. Cougar guard Lexi Rydalch started the game nicely, but missed eight straight shots from late in the second quarter to late in the fourth period and then fouled out in the last minute. Her 7-of-21 shooting day concluded a weird career in WCC tournament title games. In 2014, she missed her first 13 shots and finished 2 of 18 in a loss to Gonzaga. Last March against USF, she completed a Most Outstanding Player performance. And then she struggled in the second half Tuesday, as the Cougars lost the 15-point lead they had built in the first quarter.
The consolation? Rydalch remembered how the Cougars advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 after losing in the conference tournament two years ago, and BYU (26-6) is likely to get a decent seed when the 2016 bracket is announced Monday.
Rydalch finished with 23 points, topping the 2,500-point mark for her career. She moved ahead of the late Hank Gathers of Loyola Marymount for the WCC's all-time men's or women's scoring record and is fourth on BYU's list, within range of No. 3 Jimmer Fredette. But she and her teammates took the defeat hard, after wanting to follow through on their regular-season championship.
"Not everything goes perfect all the time in life," Judkins said after the surprising loss to a No. 6 seed. "We just didn't do what we needed to do, down at the end."
The Dons came through, extending their late-season surge. This has been a long struggle for Azzi, who played for the Starzz in 2000-02 before the franchise moved to San Antonio. Her six-year record is conference games is 31-69 - and that includes a 9-9 record this year.
This USF group is "a beautiful team," Azzi said. "It's built on love, and they play for one another, and I don't think that happens enough in sports."
BYU's men's women's all-time scoring list
Tina Gunn Robison 2,759
Tyler Haws 2,720
Jimmer Fredette 2,599
Lexi Eaton Rydalch 2,513
Danny Ainge 2,467
Michael Smith 2,319
Tresa Spaulding Hamson 2,309
Devin Durrant 2,285
Jackie Beene McBride 2,191
Erin Thorn 2,061