LAS VEGAS (AP) - Gonzaga has been the dominant team in the West Coast Conference for years and little has changed since BYU joined the league.
It’s gotten a little tougher since the Cougars became part of the conference, but the Bulldogs are still the top school, as they proved again on Tuesday.
Keani Albanez scored 20 points and No. 18 Gonzaga dominated BYU defensively to win the WCC tournament for the sixth time in seven years, beating the Cougars 71-57.
“Today, we played as hard as we possibly could play and for stretches we played as well as we could possibly play,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said.
Especially on defense.
After some early struggles against WCC player of the year Jennifer Hamson, Gonzaga (29-4) turned the title game into a rout, holding the Cougars to 30 percent shooting while forcing 21 turnovers.
Hamson scored eight quick points, but the Bulldogs limited her chances during a key stretch to build a 16-point halftime lead. She finished with 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting.
Gonzaga also made life difficult for Lexi Eaton. BYU’s second-leading scorer shot several air balls and scored 11 of her 15 points at the free-throw line while going 2 of 18 from the field.
Offensively, Sunny Greinacher had 16 points and Lindsay Sherbert added 15 for Gonzaga in its seventh straight WCC title-game appearance.
“Definitely going into this game, we wanted it,” Albanez said. “You could see it in everyone’s eyes, you could see it in our locker room, during warm-ups, pumped-up songs. It means a lot to us.”
BYU (26-6) tried to fight its way back several times after a dismal first half, but never made it all the way back because of poor shooting and turnovers that led to 19 points for Gonzaga.
Kim Beeston added 12 points and five assists for the Cougars, who now must wait to see if they get an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve played a hard schedule, we’re 26-6 and this conference is a good conference,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “I’d be feeling a lot better if I was Kelly Graves and we knew we were in for sure, but I think we’ve got a good chance.”
Gonzaga came into the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed after going 16-2 in the WCC, pretty much ensuring an NCAA tournament berth no matter what happened in the title game.
The Cougars, on the other hand, are teetering on the NCAA bubble. They were hoping to earn the automatic berth instead of waiting out Selection Sunday to see if they’re in the bracket.