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No. 21 BYU escapes late comeback by Utah for 8th straight win

BYU Cougars guard Paisley Harding (13) drives on Utah Utes guard Brynna Maxwell (11) as Utah and BYU women compete in a basketball game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

BYU Cougars guard Paisley Harding (13) drives on Utah Utes guard Brynna Maxwell (11) as Utah and BYU women compete in a basketball game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)


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Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Paisley Harding was just a freshman the last time BYU beat Utah. Before playing the Utes in now her fifth season, she envisioned all of her shots going in — making basket after basket.

Harding scored a career-high 33 points on 14-of-20 shooting, including 4 of 7 from the 3-point line, as the No. 21 Cougars shot 59% from the field to get past Utah 85-80 Saturday night at the Huntsman Center.

"Paisley is a hard matchup. … When she's hitting her jumper like she was tonight, she's tough to guard because you gotta get up on her, and if you get up on her she's gonna drive you," BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. "She wanted to play well — it's her last time here. She wanted to play really well here."

With key players out for the Cougars, their already slim rotation was cut down and the starters averaged over 35 minutes. Of those starters, Shaylee Gonzales had 22 points and seven assists, and Tegan Graham had 9 points and tied her career high with eight assists.

Utah's Gianna Kneepkens tried to keep up with Harding and poured 29 points of her own, including four made 3s and a perfect 7 of 7 from the free-throw line to lead the second-highest scoring team in the nation.

"They're a very, very good offensive team the way they play. I think if we would've had a little more depth we could have rested people and that would've helped," Judkins said. "But they're the best offensive team we've played this year by far, it's not even close."

Midway through the third quarter, the Cougars got out to their largest lead of 21 points after starting the quarter on a 16-5 run; but the Utes fought their way back over the next 15 minutes and gave BYU a scare in the last minutes of the game.

Jenna Johnson, who scored 10 points and pulled in five rebounds, made a layup with 2:27 remaining in the fourth quarter. Kennedy McQueen followed the layup with a 3-pointer from the right corner to cut the deficit to just 8 points. After getting another defensive stop, Dru Gylten, who finished with a game-high eight assists, found McQueen in the opposite corner for another 3-pointer.

With 21 seconds left, Gonzales was fouled and made both free throws to go up by 6; but again, the Utes had an answer back with another deep ball from Kneepkens.

Judkins quickly called a timeout and set up his team to space the court. The Cougars were able to knock nine seconds off the clock after inbounding the ball before Gonzales was eventually fouled and sent to the line to ice the game by knocking down both free throws.

"I thought we were great in the fourth quarter," Utes head coach Lynne Roberts said. "If you look at shot attempts and rebounds and all that, we had more chances than them. We just didn't shoot as well and part of that's a credit to their defense, their shooting probably accredited to maybe not our best defense.

"I thought it was a great fourth quarter for us but kind of a little bit too late."

While BYU ended the second quarter making their last 6 of 7 shots, it was their defense that allowed them to take an 11-point lead into halftime.

The Utes were held scoreless for almost the last two minutes of the half and didn't hit a field goal in the last three minutes.

The offensive struggles continued for the Utes to start the second half. It wasn't until over two minutes into the third quarter when the Utes got their first made bucket from a layup by Johnson. But BYU quickly responded with a 7-0 scoring run over the next minute of play to take their largest lead of the game.

The Utes shot 42.6% from the field in the game, but defensively struggled to contain the Cougars offense, particularly Gonzales coming off of ball screens and high-low looks into the post. BYU ended the game with 36 made shots, seven more than Utah.

"Credit BYU, I thought they played really, really, really well," Roberts said. "I think they're legit this year, not to say they haven't been in the past; but this is the best time I've seen Juddy have and they did a nice job."

Both Utah and BYU will get almost a week off before they play again. The Utes (6-2) will play at home Friday, Dec. 10 against Cal State Fullerton, while the Cougars will remain on the road and travel to Oklahoma.

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