PROVO — With just over six minutes left in a back-and-forth game with No. 13 Gonzaga, BYU women’s basketball freshman Shaylee Gonzales drained a second-chance 3-pointer from the left elbow.
The flawless trey gave the Cougars a 61-60 edge over the Zags, and the fiery Paisley Johnson ran to the sideline and screamed at the crowd with two words: “Let’s go!”
With a passion in her voice only equaled by the passion of her game, the 5-foot-9 sophomore from Everett, Washington, brought the crowd of 1,341 to their feet.
It was the second-largest crowd of the year, one that included former Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton (watching his daughter Lauren, the starting point guard at Gonzaga).
And Johnson knew they needed every bit of it if the Cougars wanted to capture their biggest win of the season.
Boy, did they.
Gonzales had a game-high 17 points and five rebounds, and Johnson added 12 points and two assists to help the Cougars win their ninth-straight game in a big way — by knocking off the 13th-ranked Zags, 70-68, Thursday night in the Marriott Center.
“These are the nights you pray for and work hard for, to see your team compete in a big game and believe in each other,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “This is what makes it all worth it: the hours watching film, breaking things down, just this opportunity. They had to do it the hard way. But these guys really stick together — everybody who played had a piece of the pie, and helped this team win.”
Brenna Chase added 14 points and four assists for BYU (15-3, 7-0 West Coast Conference), who got eight points from Maria Albiero and 10 rebounds from Jasmine Moody.
Stockton led the Zags (16-2, 5-1 WCC) with 15 points, four rebounds and two assists, and teammate Zykera Rice scored 13 for Gonzaga.
“It was intense, nerve-wracking, extremely fun,” Johnson said.
“Exhausting,” Chase quipped.
Added Johnson: “But that was amazing. Just incredible.”
Stockton paced a 12-2 run in the first quarter that helped the Zags to a 19-9 lead after the first. They trailed until the final moments of the first half when BYU’s bench gave them a big lift — with an assist from Johnson.
Chase capped a 6-0 run to cut the deficit as close as five, 26-21, with 4:08 left in the half. The Cougars then used the great equalizer — the 3-point shot — to pull within two, 34-32, getting a pair of triples from Maria Albiero before Johnson tied the game with a pair of free throws after being fouled on a buzzer-beating 3-point attempt at the break.
“The bench came out and gave us a huge spark,” Chase said. “You have to expect that from the bench; the sixth man is almost more important than the fifth. That’s the person who comes in when you are in a slump.”
Johnson walked off the court with a scream, and the emotion on the BYU sideline was palpable.
“You know that she is going to give you everything she’s got, and that’s what I love about Paisley,” Chase said of Johnson. “Every time there’s a loose ball, she’s diving on the floor.
“She always has my back. She’s one of the toughest kids on the team and I agree with that, 100 percent. It helps so much.”
A picture's worth a thousand words pic.twitter.com/yvQv5PX2rX— BYU Women's Hoops (@byuwbb) January 18, 2019
BYU scored on the first play of the second half, then briefly took a game-high lead 50-46 on Sara Hamson’s lay-in with 2:07 left in the third. But the Zags finished the quarter on a 6-0 run to take a 52-50 edge into the final frame.
The game was far from over, though.
The Zags never led by more than two through the fourth quarter, and Gonzales gave the Cougars a 61-60 edge on a dagger 3-pointer from the left elbow with 6:20 left to play.
Chase drained back-to-back floaters to give the Cougars a four-point lead with four minutes remaining.
“I knew if I could pump-fake, that big would fly,” she said. “I just kind of went for it, and it went in on.
“It was a little bit of luck … but we’ll take it.”
With a little luck, and a bit of grit, BYU never trailed again — but not for lack of trying from the No. 13 team in the country.
Stockton had back-to-back drives to the rim to pull the Zags as close as within one in the final moments. But Johnson hit two big free throws to give the Cougars a three-point lead in the final moment, and Shalae Salmon grabbed her only rebound of the game on a potential game-winner late to help the Cougars hold on.
“The crazy thing is that we didn’t play our best game," Johnson said. "Not even close.”