PROVO — If the BYU women’s basketball team needed a wake-up call Saturday afternoon as it hosted Portland, that can be understandable.
Just two days after a stunning 70-68 win over No. 13 Gonzaga, the Cougars were back in the Marriott Center for an early afternoon matinee — and they looked sleepy.
A missed shot here. A ball caroming off another foot there. Whatever the reason, Portland took advantage.
Somebody needed to wake up the Cougars. That somebody was Maria Albiero.
Albiero had a career-high 16 points off the bench, and BYU didn’t lead until the final 3 minutes, 35 seconds before pulling away from the Pilots, 79-71, for the Cougars’ 10th-straight victory.
Brenna Chase added 13 points for the Cougars (16-3), and teammate Shaylee Gonzales added 11 points and 10 assists for BYU — the only team left in the West Coast Conference without a loss in league play.
But it almost came crashing down early.
“It happens. After a big game like that, everyone was celebrating. No one could go to bed, because we were all so jittery and excited about it,” Albiero said of the win over the Zags. “The next day, we come in and have to prepare and focus — and it’s hard. It’s hard to get back up.
“We learned a lesson. Things like that happen, and we let it get to us — but thankfully we got the win.”
Haylee Andrews had 19 points and Julie Spencer added 17 as the Pilots led from the opening tip, scoring the first five points of the game and taking a 14-6 advantage on Maddie Muhlheim’s 3-pointer with 6:28 left in the first quarter.
“Portland played a heck of a game tonight. What they did is what a lot of teams do when they don’t have a ton of size: they spread you out and they shoot the three ball, and then drive it,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “I had to go small tonight.
“It wasn’t the best night for some of them. But they made plays when they needed to make plays, and it was a lot of people.”
BYU players not named “Brenna Chase” made just 3-of-11 shots in the opening quarter, while Portland shot 9-of-16 with four 3-pointers to take a 27-15 lead out of the quarter.
Judkins searched his bench for a spark.
He found it in Albiero, the sophomore Brazilian whose previous career high was 10 points scored in a 51-42 win over Colorado State earlier this year.
“She’s playing like Maria. She was really a big plus tonight coming off the bench,” Judkins said. “Maria is a good standstill shooter with a good pull-up game, and she took advantage of both of those.
“She’s come in the last 4-5 games and has really played like Maria. When she does that, my substitutions on the guard line are quite good.”
The Cougars also got good minutes from the defensive work of Caitlyn Alldredge, the 5-foot-10 guard from Centerville who just finished her four-year standout career with the BYU softball team, and 6-foot-7 center Sara Hamson, who missed most of the first month of the season with an injury suffered during volleyball season.
The subs showed up; all four non-starters played double-digit minutes, led by Albiero’s 24.
“My role is to come, to push the ball, play defense and hit open shots. If you’re focused on your role when you come from a bench, you get an opportunity and you have to be ready,” Albiero said. “It’s hard. It’s not easy. That’s something you have to work on every day.
“But that’s what the girls did. Caitlyn is a great addition to our team, and she brings so much energy.”
Portland led by as much as 16 in the second quarter, but Albiero was fouled while converting a step-back 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left — and after she hit the free throw, the Cougars trailed just 61-55 at the break.
BYU held Portland without a field goal for more than three minutes in the fourth quarter, and Albiero’s third three pulled the Cougars within 68-63 with 4:37 to play. Chase added a triple of her own as BYU came all the way back to force a two-point game, 68-66, at the under four-minute timeout.
That sparked a 14-0 run and BYU took its first lead of the game on a pair of free throws from Gonzales, 70-68.
And that was all the Cougars needed.
“All of our guards are amazing, and I’m just there to help however I can,” Albiero said. “I’m just glad that (Judkins) is starting to trust me more and more. We work for it every day. I’m here every day.
“I had an opportunity, and I am just happy I could help.”
BYU made just one field goal in the final 3:10 of regulation, but held Portland scoreless for more than four minutes and ended the game on a 19-3 run.
“It’s tough when you have an emotional and a physical win (over Gonzaga), it took a lot out of us,” Judkins said. “To come back and be ready to play in less than 48 hours, it’s tough. I don’t care who you are.”