LAS VEGAS, Nev. - BYU women's basketball became the lowest seed to win the West Coast Conference Championship final with a 76-65 win over San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon in the Orleans Arena, punching its ticket to the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
The Cougars (23-9, 12-6 WCC) won their second conference tournament since joining the WCC in the 2011-12 season, which was also the same year they won their first championship. Had the Dons (19-13, 8-10 WCC) won, it would have been their first tournament victory since 1997.
Lexi Eaton was named the WCC Tournament MVP after leading the Cougars with 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. She averaged 22.7 points during BYU's championship run. Morgan Bailey had 20 points and eight rebounds in the win. Shooting 5 of 8 from beyond the arc, Makenzi Morrison had 19 points along with three assists. Eaton, Bailey and Morrison were all named to the WCC All-Tournament Team.
"First of all, I am really proud of our team," BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. "This was a long four weeks, and to be able to top it off like this, shows a lot of the character of this team. This team could have quit. I think our experience helped today. We have a lot of players that have been in this situation before, but it always slips through their fingers."
"I also want to give San Francisco a lot of credit. They were playing, during the season, as good as any team in this league and I think it showed, added Judkins." After hitting 4 of 6 from three in BYU's semifinal win against Gonzaga, Morrison's hot hand continued right from the start in the final as she scored the Cougars' first points on a 3-pointer. Back-to-back threes from Xojian Harry and Morrison put BYU up 15-7 with 14:48 left in the first half. San Francisco answered with a 10-0 run to take an 18-17 lead.
Behind four treys from three different players, the Cougars went on a 16-0 run over a six minute stretch to go up 33-20. With 4:28 left in the half, a three from Kylie Maeda capped off the run.
After the Dons scored four points to cut the lead back to single digits, BYU went on a 6-2 run to close out the half to lead San Francisco 39-27 at the break. Morrison hit a three with 39 seconds left for her third trey of the first half. Both she and Eaton had 11 points at halftime.
"We tried to mix it up a little bit on defense and that just keeps the other team guessing because it keeps them on their toes," said Lexi Eaton. "Whatever seed you are (in the WCC tournament), it doesn't matter, what matters is how you play at the end of the year."
Eaton opened the second half by going 3 of 3 from the free throw line to give the Cougars a 15-point advantage. From there the two teams traded buckets and San Francisco slowly picked away at BYU's lead, cutting it to 10 at 57-44 with 9:57 to go.
At the 8:52 mark, Morrison's shot from beyond the arc bounced up off the rim and went through the net. That trey, which was her fifth of the game, sparked a 9-1 run over a four minute span as BYU opened up its biggest lead of the game at 66-48.
The Dons made a late run to close the gap back to single digits until they were forced to foul as time ran out. Cassie Broadhead, Bailey and Eaton closed out the game, making 6 of 8 shots from the charity stripe for the 76-65 victory.
BYU will learn its matchup in the NCAA tournament on Monday, March 16, at 7 p.m. EDT on ESPN.
Team BYU had a 13-point, 33-20 advantage with 4:26 left in the first half and took a 12-point lead into the break, 39-27. The Cougars won the game 76-65, clinching their second WCC Championship title in four years.
BYU is the lowest seeded team to ever win a league title in the WCC.
After the first 20 minutes of action, the Cougars had dished out 12 assists, compared with five for the Dons. BYU finished with 18 total assists, making it the 24th game that it has recorded more assists than its opponent. San Francisco had 11 for the game.
BYU finished the game with eight steals compared with seven for San Francisco.
The Cougars scored 24 points off of the Dons' turnovers. San Francisco had 14 points from BYU miscues.
For the 13th time this year and the second-straight game, BYU finished with three players scoring in double figures, led by Lexi Eaton with 22. Morgan Bailey had 20 and Makenzi Morrison contributed 19.
San Francisco had the edge in the rebound category with 42 compared with 30 for BYU. They also had one more block than the Cougars, 2 to 1.
Eaton had 11 points in the first half, making it the 29th time on the year that she's had at least 10-plus points in a game. Eaton finished with 22 for her 16th game with 20-plus points. She also had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. She was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2015 WCC Championships.
Bailey led the way for the Cougars in rebounds with four in the first half and finished the game with a team-best eight boards. She also recorded her 25th game with double digits and her ninth with 20-plus points. She was named to the 2015 WCC All-Tournament Team.
Morrison was one of two players in double digit scoring with 11 for BYU in the first 20 minutes of action. She ended with 19 points for her 16th game and second straight in double figures. She also went 5 of 8 from 3-point range. She was also named to the 2015 WCC All-Tournament Team.
Maeda had five assists in the first half and finished the contest with a game-high five. She also contributed eight points and a game-best three steals.
Additional coach and player quotes
BYU head coach Jeff Judkins:
"I was really proud for our team. These three up here (Lexi Eaton, Makenzi Morrison, Morgan Bailey) had a great tournament, but more importantly, they had a great season. They really stuck together and each one of them have done something for this team to be successful."
More on San Francisco: "A lot of their players will be back; they've got a lot of younger kids. This will be a great experience for them. I want to give (USF coach) Jennifer Azzi and her staff a lot of compliments about this year. They are a very classy team."
BYU Player Morgan Bailey:
"I don't think it (BYU offense agains the USF zone defense) changed too much for us, in that we are good at getting the ball inside and kicking it out. Our coach is really good at letting us know where to put the ball. I have a lot of belief in these girls, and they have a lot of heart."
BYU Player Makenzi Morrison:
"As a shooter, I enjoy playing against zones. So for me, it was just as good as if they were playing man. We have a good inside presence so it didn't really make a difference for us."