No. 16 BYU forces 23 turnovers, gets blowout victory over Santa Clara

BYU Cougars guard Paisley Johnson Harding (13) celebrates during a timeout after a 3-point shot by teammate Tegan Graham (10) in West Coast Conference basketball tournament semifinal action at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Monday, March 8, 2021. BYU won 85-55 to advance to the finals against Gonzaga. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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PROVO — Following the Associated Press releasing its Top 25 Monday where BYU moved up one spot to No. 16 to tie the program's highest ranking, the Cougars proved yet again why they are deserving of being recognized on a national level in Thursday night's contest against Santa Clara.

Tegan Graham poured in a game-high 16 points on 6-of-10 shooing, including 3 of 6 from deep, and added four assists and two steals as BYU used a dominant defensive first half to pull away from the Broncos (9-7, 3-3 WCC) en route to a 76-44 win in the Marriott Center.

Shaylee Gonzales added 13 points, a season-high nine assists, five steals and three rebounds for the Cougars while Paisley Harding added 11 points in the Cougars' eighth-straight victory.

"It's a great team effort," BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. "I think they're all buying into each other and that we've got to keep it up."

In conference play — and during several preseason games — the Cougars (16-1, 6-0 WCC) aren't just winning but blowing out their opponents. In the six conference games played so far, BYU has won by an average of just over 24 points per game, with the largest margin of victory coming on January 13 in a 42-point win over Saint Mary's.

"I just think we love to compete, and we love to win," Graham said. "We don't overlook anyone, and I think that's why you keep seeing these double-digit wins, because as much respect as we have for ourselves, we also respect our opponent."

But the wins are not coming solely on the offensive or defensive side of the court. Each game and each win, the Cougars are piecing together a full 40-minute game and dominating on both sides of the ball.

Thursday night was no different.

After trading baskets with the Broncos during the first five minutes of action, BYU held a slim 13-9 advantage at the first media timeout. But out of the break, Gonzales got consecutive steals, which lead to 4 quick points, and started what ended up being an 18-0 scoring run over the next five and a half minutes of play.

In the first quarter, Santa Clara turned the ball over 10 times, and BYU took advantage of the extra possessions. The Cougars scored 12 points on the turnovers to put the game away early in the first half.

By the end of the game, the Cougars scored 23 points off of 23 Santa Clara turnovers and shot an efficient 29 of 63 from the field off 21 assists.

"Our coaches say it all the time, but I think we're the best basketball team when we're creating for each other," Graham said. "I think the way we move and the way we pass the ball, that's what makes us a special team.

"Defensively, we keep getting better. That's something that Judd really harped on when we started conference, just continuing to execute what we need to do defensively. I think game-by-game we've gotten better and better, and you can see that how we play the start of a game."

The Broncos entered the game averaging over 70 points per game and were held to 26 points below their average. Santa Clara senior guard Lindsey Van Allen came in as the second-leading scorer in the West Coast Conference at 18 points per game but was held to just 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting. She also turned the ball over five times.

Despite another dominant performance where the Cougars led for almost 39 minutes, Judkins said the teams' goals remain the same.

"Our main goals are to get better every day and try to improve and do the things we need to," Judkins said.

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