Gonzaga stifled Brigham Young, 62-43, to reach Monday's WCC final against San Diego.

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LAS VEGAS — Kelly Graves, the Gonzaga’s women’s basketball coach, already had a conviction about his 2012-13 team, and what he saw Saturday in the West Coast Conference semifinals didn’t do anything to dissuade him.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a team improve more from the first day of the season until now,” he said Saturday. “We weren’t great in November and December, but we continued to get better and better and better and improve.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a team than I am of this one.”

This was just after Gonzaga had stifled Brigham Young, 62-43, to reach Monday’s WCC final against San Diego. The BYU output was its lowest of the season, and GU’s best defensive effort in more than three months.

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“I’m not sure we’ve played a more physically tough game all season,” Graves said. “Defensively, we were terrific, flying around, making things happen.”

This is a retooled Zags team, one that lost three front-line starters off last year’s 28-6 Sweet 16 squad. Saturday, they played a game that wasn’t always aesthetic, but it was surely gritty. Guards Haiden Palmer, Taelor Karr and Jazmine Redmon combined to shoot 6 of 26 from the field, but GU more than made up for it with its defense, which limited BYU to six field goals in its first 31 attempts.

“Honestly,” said Graves, recalling the heavy graduation after last season, “I had no idea what we were going to have this year.”

What it appears he has is another NCAA tournament team, which would be Gonzaga’s fifth straight. The Zags (26-5) entered the day with a healthy 39 RPI computer ranking and a strength of schedule (98) that doesn’t damage them too much.

They stumbled a bit early Saturday, with six turnovers in the first seven minutes. But a 19-3 run on each side of the half put it away, as BYU went 8 minutes, 42 seconds without a field goal against Gonzaga’s aggressive man-to-man defense.

Late in the half, the Zags got a big boost from 6-foot-2 freshman forward Kiara Kudron of New Boston, Mich., who had six late points as GU took a 30-19 lead at intermission. Kudron finished with a season-high eight points and five rebounds.

Bigger picture, it was Redmon, the WCC’s defensive player of the year, who led a stout effort against the Cougars and standout senior point guard Haley Steed, who went 3 of 11 as BYU (21-10) never could find any consistent offense.

“It’s a thankless job,” said Graves. “She draws the best (offensive) player on the opposing team night in and night out. She makes us go. She is just so tough.

“Mom’s a cop. I think that helps.”

“Probably, yeah,” said Redmon, whose mother Shaney is a Spokane Police Department downtown patrolwoman. “It’s a role for me, and I get excited when I do my role well.”

The only down note of the day involved Karr, the WCC player of the year, who fell hard on her tailbone 13 minutes in and was limited to 24 minutes.

BYU (21-10) — Bailey 5-11 1-2 12, Steed 3-11 2-2 8, Unga 2-4 3-3 7, Garfield 3-4 0-0 6, Hamson 2-6 1-2 5, Seaborn 1-6 0-0 3, Beeston 0-8 2-3 2, Harry 0-0 0-0 0, Stratton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-50 9-12 43.

GONZAGA (26-5) — Cheslek 6-9 4-5 16, Greinacher 4-11 2-2 10, Palmer 4-13 0-1 9, Kudron 4-5 0-0 8, Redmon 1-9 2-2 4, Karr 1-4 2-2 4, Winters 1-3 1-2 4, Albanez 1-5 2-4 4, Golden 1-1 0-0 2, Waters 0-0 1-2 1, Tinkle 0-1 0-0 0, Nilles 0-0 0-0 0, Walter 0-0 0-0 0, Viela 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-61 14-20 62.

Halftime — Gonzaga 30-19. Three-point goals — BYU 2-16 (Bailey 1-1, Seaborn 1-6, Beeston 0-5, Steed 0-4), Gonzaga 2-14 (Palmer 1-2, Winters 1-2, Redmon 0-5, Karr 0-2, Albanez 0-3). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — BYU 35 (Steed, Unga 7), Gonzaga 41 (Cheslek 8). Assists — YU 6 (Steed 3), Gonzaga 13 (Redmon 5). Total fouls — BYU 18, Gonzaga 12. Technical — BYU team. A — 7,896.

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