The Gonzaga University women’s basketball team fell to BYU 78-66 in the championship game of the Zappos.com West Coast Conference Tournament Monday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The top seeded Bulldogs were playing in their sixth-straight tournament title game, with this being just their second loss and first in four years.
“Obviously I am disappointed but give credit to BYU,” stated head coach Kelly Graves. “It was a great ball game between two talented teams.”
Gonzaga, whose has a record of 26-5, now waits to see what their NCAA Tournament fate is. Selection Monday is set for Monday, March 12 at 4 p.m. ET.
“I told by team to hold their heads high,” explained Graves. “They have had a great season; conference champions, a 26-5 record. I feel good about where we are at and I honestly look forward to playing at home in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament in two weeks.”
Despite the setback, both Kayla Standish and Haiden Palmer were named to the All-Tournament Team. Standish, who led all scorers in GU’s semifinal victory over Saint Mary’s with a career-high 31 points, scored 18 points in its 12-point loss to Cougars.
“Kayla was tremendous all tournament and proved to be one of the top players in the conference,” said Graves of his all-tournament forward. “She did everything she could over two games to help her team win a championship. I think this weekend has been a spring board for her going in the NCAA Tournament.”
Palmer added a game and career-high 28 points Monday. The redshirt sophomore started the game hitting seven-straight field goals before missing and ended the contest hitting 12-of-17 from the field, including 4-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“Haiden was terrific all day,” explained Graves of Palmer’s performance. “She really brought it. She was fearless and didn’t get up. When she shoots that way, under control like she did, she can and is terrific.”
BYU’s point guard Haley Steed was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player as she scored 17 points and dished out eight assists. Dani Petersen, who led the Cougars with 18 points, and Jennifer Hamson, were both also named to the All-Tournament team.
It was Palmer and Standish who lighted up the game in the first 20-minutes for the Bulldogs as they combined for 22 of the team’s first 32 points and helped them hold a 32-24 advantage with 5:09 left in the opening half. Palmer hit a crucial jumper and 3-pointer in the Zags momentum shifting 11-2 run that turned a 22-22 tie into their eight-point edge; the largest of the game for GU.
The Cougars and Steed stormed back though, putting together their own run; a 12-3 spurt that gave them a slight one-point edge at 36-35 at the half. Steed made a layup and drained a 3-pointer while also passing out an assist.
BYU closed out the first half shooting an unbelievable 71.4 percent (15-of-21), while Gonzaga made 48.3 percent (14-of-29) of its shots.
The battle continued early in the second half. BYU pushed its lead to six just two minutes into the final half, but two free throws by Standish and another 3-pointer by Palmer had the Cougars lead at 43-42 with 17:08 to play. Two free throws by Hamson gave BYU back a 3-point lead, but Palmer – feeling it all afternoon – drained another 3-pointer to knot the game at 45-45.
An unfortunate foul by Jazmine Redmon on Steed while shooting a 3-pointer started the downward spiral for Gonzaga. Steed hit all three free throw attempts, which would be the start of an 8-0 run by the Cougars and ultimately a 19-6 run that broke open a 13-point edge at 64-51 with 9:04 remaining in the contest.
Gonzaga would get the lead down to nine – at 68-59 with 3:52 to play – on an offensive board and put back by non-other than Palmer but a 3-pointer by Stephanie Vermunt all-but put a stop to the Bulldogs come back attack.
Senior Katelan Redmon was the only other Bulldog to crack double-figures; finishing the game with 10.