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Las Vegas • Ashley Garfield caught a perfect half-court pass from Haley Steed in stride and laid the ball gently off the glass, pulling the BYU Cougars within a point of top-seeded Gonzaga with just under four minutes remaining in the first half.
The Cougars were seemingly on their way to proving coach Jeff Judkins' point that they could hang with the West Coast Conference champions, despite a pair of double-digit losses in the regular season.
Then the dream ended. Gonzaga's defense happened.
The Cougars would not make another field goal until 15:10 remained in the second half, giving in to the Zags' relentless pressure defense, and Gonzaga rolled to a 62-43 win in a WCC semifinal game at Orleans Arena.
"We played really well in the first 15 minutes," Judkins said. "Right before half, we kind of let down a little bit. That gave Gonzaga a little bit of momentum, and it was tough to come back. They do a great job of executing. We felt we could [beat them], but we just couldn't sneak over the hump."
Gonzaga (26-5) moves on to Monday afternoon's conference championship game, while the Cougars (21-10) join their men's basketball team in hoping for a bid to the National Invitational Tournament.
"After they beat us in the championship game last year, it felt great to get another shot at them," said Gonzaga's Haiden Palmer. "I am glad they are in our conference because they always present a challenge."
Well, for 15 minutes the Cougars presented a challenge. But after Garfield's layup made it 18-17, BYU misfired on five straight possessions, and the rout was on. The Zags took a 30-19 lead into halftime, and pushed it to 37-20 before the Cougars could right themselves.
Steed's layup with 15:10 left in the game ended the field-goal drought, but the Zags scored the game's next five points to end the uprising.
Gonzaga's Jazmine Redmond, the WCC Defensive Player of the Year, put the clamps on Steed, who was 3 for 11 from the field, and the Cougars' role players did not step up.
BYU shot just 16 of 50 from the field, including 2 of 16 from 3-point range, a day after shooting well in its 69-57 win over Loyola Marymount in the quarterfinals. Stephanie Seaborn, who made seven 3-pointers on Friday, was 1 for 6 from there on Saturday.
"Well, sometimes a little bit of it is the law of averages," said BYU's Jennifer Hamson, held to five points. "It was a lot of little things."
The Cougars eventually acknowledged, though, that the biggest thing was GU's defense, and Judkins lamented that BYU's lack of a wing who could penetrate and beat opponents off the dribble finally caught up to them.
"We talked about what they were going to do, but going out and executing it is another thing," Judkins said.
P IN SHORT • Top-seeded Gonzaga has little trouble with fourth-seeded BYU in a rematch of last year's WCC Tournament final.
KEY MOMENT • Gonzaga goes on a 10-0 run late in the first half to break open a tight game.
KEY STAT • BYU goes 2 for 16 from 3-point range after going 13 for 28 in Friday's quarterfinal.