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PROVO — BYU's return to Provo for the women's basketball league opener was inspired by runs.
The Gaels hit 57 percent of their shots, including all three 3-point attempts, to take a 19-17 edge out of the first quarter.
But BYU responded in the second quarter, using two runs of 6-0 or more to take a 37-30 lead into halftime. Lexi Eaton Rydalch scored 10 of her game-high 13 first-half points in the second quarter, and Makenzi Morrison Pulsipher added nine points on 3 triples to add to the Cougars' hot streak in the second quarter.
Rydalch finished with a game-high 22 points, eight assists and six rebounds as BYU survived a streaky afternoon to grind out its first win in West Coast Conference play, 65-59, over Saint Mary's on New Year's Eve at the Marriott Center.
"Teams go on runs, and the key is to make their run short and yours run long," BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. "I think playing a hard early schedule helped us. They got up on us, but we've been there before against a lot of teams we respect. I thought we came out in the second quarter a lot more aggressive and ran the floor better.
"Those guys can shoot it. Our game plan was to play a lot of zone tonight, but we didn't because of what they did."
Kalani Purcell added nine points and 11 rebounds for BYU (9-4, 1-1 WCC) — the 10th double-figure rebounding game of the 12-game BYU career for the junior college transfer from Hamilton, New Zealand. Pulsipher finished with 15 points and four rebounds, and Broadhead added 10 points for the Cougars.
Teams go on runs, and the key is to make their run short and yours run long. I think playing a hard early schedule helped us. They got up on us, but we've been there before against a lot of teams we respect. I thought we came out in the second quarter a lot more aggressive and ran the floor better.
–BYU women's basketball coach Jeff Judkins
Lauren Nicholson led the Gaels (10-4, 1-2 WCC) with 17 points, but scored just 11 points in the final three quarters and seven in the second half after Purcell switched to guard her.
"It's never easy against (Saint Mary's). They are tough all around," Rydalch said. "We knew we were going to have to be tough in every single spot. The biggest key, though, was rebounding for us and I think we did a good job of that."
But the game was won in the second quarter.
Pulsipher started the good luck for BYU by finishing off a transition play from 3-point range on an upcourt pass from Rydalch. After Sydney Raggio scored on the Gaels' next possession, the Cougars scored the next seven points, including back-to-back buckets from Rydalch on a pair of lightly contested drives to the hoop to go up 28-26 with 5:08 left in the first half.
"It's a game of adjustments. We saw they were really trying to drive it and look inside, so we adjusted," Rydalch said. "On the offensive end, they packed the paint so our drives were one dribble and a kick. We made some adjustments, and that made the difference."
A technical foul on the BYU bench for arguing with an official broke up the run, but the Cougars responded with a 6-0 run to end the half up by seven. It was the third technical foul on BYU's assistant coaching bench.
Other than that, the game flowed from the start of the second quarter for the Cougars. BYU finished with 17 assists on 25 made shots, and passed the ball as many as eight times before some makes.
"When you get that board, you get the new clock and then you want to swing it around, drive and kick," said Amanda Payment, who had a team-high eight offensive rebounds. "That shot, we all can go in (for a rebound). We are already right there."
Rydalch's game-high eight assists tied a career-high and her most helpers since last season's 89-72 win over Pacific. Purcell added four assists and point guard Kylie Maeda supplied three.
"That's huge. It's huge when my teammates are making those shots, because it opens it for everyone else," Rydalch said. "Once they hit shots, it becomes an in-then-out game. It creates a rhythm for us and I think we prepared well for them."
Saint Mary's tried to make a run in the fourth quarter, opening the final period on a 7-3 run to pull within a bucket, 53-51, on Northwestern transfer Devon Brookshire's layup. But Pulsipher scored just under a minute later, and BYU made eight free throws down the stretch to hold on for the win.
Brookshire finished with nine points for Saint Mary's and Raggio supplied seven points and eight rebounds.
The Cougars fell behind early on the boards, but ended the game out rebounding the Gaels, 40-39. Wayment pulled down eight rebounds, behind only Purcell.
"When you miss a shot, you just need to stay positive and think to get another stop on them and get another opportunity to score again," Payment said. "We had that mindset tonight, and it helped us on the offensive and defensive end."
The Cougars' No. 2 rebounder was key to that mindset, her coach said.
"Amanda is really a very offensive rebounder," Judkins said. "She has a great feel, gets real good position, and defensively she boxes out a bit too much instead of going to get it.
"Some of her rebounds gave us a lot of life, especially in the second quarter. It really got us going. I thought she helped us offensively."
After the Gaels shot 57 percent from the field in the first half, BYU clamped down on the perimeter and held Saint Mary's to 38 percent on the game. After making their first three treys, the Gaels made just two of their next seven attempts to finish shooting 50 percent from long range.
"This was a great win for us," Judkins said. "It seems like we haven't played in forever. But this is a good team, and it always feels like an ugly game. We don't have the athletes to press them, so it comes down to a slugfest. Paul's a great coach and his teams run their stuff well."
After compiling an 8-3 record in non-conference play despite the No. 10-rated schedule in the nation, BYU opened WCC play with a 78-65 loss at San Diego. The Cougars play three of their first five league games away from home before getting a run of four straight home games beginning Jan. 14 against Gonzaga.
"You have to win all your games at home in this conference because the road games are so tough," Rydalch said. "You have energy at home, and you have to be consistent. This also gives Saint Mary's a couple of early losses and puts them on their heels. We have to be happy with it."
BYU returns to the Marriott Center with a 2 p.m. MST tipoff Saturday against Pacific.
"You wish you could play the easiest team first, but that's not how it is in this league," Judkins said. "Once you get one (win), you feel a lot better. This is a tough stretch for us: San Diego, Saint Mary's, Pacific, and probably a 3-0 Santa Clara. But that's good for our conference, and it's what we want."