By Scott Taylor Deseret Morning News
PROVO — The closing minutes may have been far from classic, but the setting and the results were just perfect as the BYU women's basketball team clinched a share of the Mountain West Conference regular-season championship with 59-55 victory over Utah Wednesday night at the Marriott Center.
With their first home win against Utah since BYU's 2002 Sweet Sixteen team, the Cougars played before a program-best crowd of 4,018, bolstered by the several thousand students who attended the game to collect the tickets to Saturday's BYU-Utah men's game distributed afterwards.
"The fans, Senior Night, a big game against our archrival, and for us to have a chance at the conference championship — it's a dream to win it like that," said BYU head coach Jeff Judkins.
Added Cougar senior center Dani Wright: "This game was very emotional. It was one of those games you wanted to win."
BYU (21-7, 12-3 MWC) can with the title outright with either a New Mexico loss Thursday or Saturday or a Cougar win Saturday at TCU.
Shadowed by U. defenders for the second time in as many meetings, Mallary Gillespie found enough space to score a game-high 15 points.
"She earned them — she worked hard," Judkins said.
Said Gillespie, who managed just eight points in last month's Salt Lake City loss before fouling out: "I didn't try to force anything tonight."
Wright adding 11 points and a game-best 12 rebounds, while frontcourt partner Lauren Riley contributed 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting and six boards.
Utah (17-11, 10-5 MWC) had three in double figures — Morgan Warburton and Kalee Whipple with 12 points each and Marie Warner with 10. Warburton's total was less than half of her game-high 25 in the Utes' victory over BYU.
"I'm proud as can be," said Utah head coach Elaine Elliott. "These kids, they came to play, and they gave them everything they wanted."
BYU won despite shooting only 42 percent from the field and only 21 percent from behind the arc.
"They played a great game," Judkins said. "It didn't show on the stat sheet. It showed in their hearts and in their toughness."
BYU opened the game with a 10-0 run over the first three minutes and led 16-7 six-plus minutes in.
Utah countered with a 13-1 run over the next seven minutes, with Warburton and Whipple scoring twice each, Jessica Perry adding a bucket and Warner canning a 3 for a 20-17 U. lead.
Gillespie's first shot — a 3-pointer — tied it at 20, as she scored seven of the Cougars' last 13 points of the half and Riley added two inside FGs for a 30-28 halftime lead. Both teams took their turn at two small leads 10 minutes through the second half, with a Heidi Carlsen 3-pointer giving Utah its final advantage at 47-44 with nine minutes to play. The Cougars countered with a pair of 3s — Slade's to tie and Gillespie's to take the lead for good at 50-47 with 7:57 remaining.
Utah pulled within one twice, the final time at 55-54 with 5:36 left on Joh-Teena Filipe's trey. BYU answered with a Wright follow for a 57-54 margin at the 4:08 mark before Carlsen made one of two FTs.