Marriott matters: No. 20 BYU takes care of LMU to set up home finale with Gonzaga

BYU guard Shaylee Gonzales goes up for a layup during the Cougars' women's basketball game against Loyola Marymount, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022 in the Marriott Center in Provo. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)

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PROVO β€” Call it a slow start or a late wake-up call for a home game that tipped off at 11 a.m. MST.

BYU women's basketball shouldn't have struggled with Loyola Marymount, two teams on opposite sides of the West Coast Conference standings, but there they were, locked in a 3-point game after one quarter.

That was before the Cougars remembered one thing: they don't lose at home.

Shaylee Gonzales poured in 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists, and Paisley Harding added 18 points and three dimes as No. 20 BYU kept the unbeaten streak going with a 13-0 home record in a 77-53 win over Loyola Marymount. It's a game that featured more than 1,000 local elementary-school students Thursday at the Marriott Center.

Lauren Gustin added 7 points and 12 rebounds for the Cougars (22-2, 12-1 West Coast), and Sara Hamson supplied 9 points, three rebounds, two blocks and two steals off the bench in BYU's 29th-straight home victory.

"We put a huge emphasis on winning our home games," said Hamson, one of five seniors who played their penultimate home game in the regular season. "It's written on big, bold letters in our locker room. And we have a good home-court advantage. The energy of the Marriott Center, the elevation, the place where we practice and shoot.

"We're used to home; it's comfortable. We expect to take advantage of that, to run girls to the ground, and shoot lights out. We've done a very good job of being consistent at home, keeping our routines, and taking advantage of it."

Jasmine Jones had 12 points and eight rebounds to lead LMU (8-16, 3-11 WCC), and Ariel Johnson supplied 13 points and four rebounds. But the Lions also had 23 turnovers β€” including 10 steals by the Cougars β€” and were outrebounded 40-28.

This was, after all, a home game. And as head coach Jeff Judkins put it, "we don't lose at home." It's something he says to his team every day, or at least before every home game. And it's a message that has worked.

BYU hasn't lost in the Marriott Center since just after New Year's Day in 2020, and a win Saturday against rival Gonzaga could give them a second-straight undefeated home season and the program's longest home winning streak since 1980.

"If you want to have a good team, you don't lose at home," Judkins said. "I think Sara in her career has done pretty well at home. It's something these guys really focus on, and we really try to do it."

BYU forced four turnovers in the final four minutes of the first quarter β€” and eight total in the opening frame β€” but couldn't take advantage of them while inching to a 15-12 advantage. The Cougars shot just 50% from the field, with 4 points apiece from Gonzales and Harding for the 3-point advantage.

But BYU took control in the second, opening on a 7-2 run before Gonzales capped an 11-2 spurt that handed BYU a 31-16 advantage with 3:35 left in the half. Back-to-back buckets to Hamson pushed the lead to 35-18 before taking a 35-24 advantage into halftime.

"This team's been really active, getting hands up and deflecting things. I think that's where Sara's improved the most, and the team has done a really good job," Judkins said. "This was a hard game, for several reasons. It's always hard to play at 11 a.m. You've got to be thinking about Gonzaga, and we beat these guys by 30 at their place. But LMU came in with a game plan to slow it down, to not get in a track meet with us, and it paid off β€” it made the game a lot more interesting. I'm glad these guys came through and played this game. It was an ugly game, but a game that we needed."

The Lions shot 50% from the field, but finished the half with 14 fewer attempts as BYU forced 14 turnovers and outrebounded LMU 21-10.

Loyola Marymount used an 8-0 run to pull within 43-36 midway through the third quarter. But Gonzales scored on back-to-back possessions to push the Cougars' lead back to double digits, and BYU finished the quarter on a 13-2 run β€” including a ridiculous two-handed floater by Hamson at the buzzer β€” and never looked back.

"It's just one of those plays that are fun β€” last second β€” and honestly, I just kind of threw it hoping it goes in," said Hamson, a former two-sport star at Pleasant Grove High School. "It had a little bit of a volleyball feel."

Nani Falatea finished with 5 points and four assists, including the pass to Hamson to end the third, off the bench for BYU. Maria Albiero dished out a game-high five assists for the Cougars.

BYU wraps up the regular-season home finale Saturday against Gonzaga. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. MST and will be broadcast on BYUtv.

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