BYU women's basketball: Cougars throw scare into No. 1 UConn but can't pull off the upset
Nati Harnik, ASSOCIATED PRESS
LINCOLN, Neb. — Clinging tenaciously to a six-point lead with less than five minutes remaining in the first half against No. 1 UConn, BYU seemed to be on the verge of making history, poised to shock the women’s college basketball world.
The undefeated Huskies, who had trailed for only 39 minutes — out of 1,440 minutes — all season long going into Saturday’s Sweet 16 matchup, seemed rattled.
“We knew it was possible,” said forward Morgan Bailey, “to beat the No. 1 team.”
UConn’s perfect season, and 42-game winning streak, appeared to be in some jeopardy.
But that vibe before a crowd of 9,585 at Pinnacle Bank Arena — that the Cougars could stage one of the biggest upsets ever in the NCAA tournament — was relatively short-lived.
Eventually, the Huskies did what they usually do. They made a run at the end of the first half to take a one-point halftime lead, then pulled away midway through the second half to claim a 70-51 victory over No. 12 seed BYU (28-6) and improve to 36-0.
“We knew that if things kept going the way we wanted to and if we kept executing our plays, that it was going to be a close game right down to the wire,” said guard Kim Beeston, who led the Cougars with 16 points and four 3-pointers. “I think that’s why we were a little disappointed that we weren’t able to do that. But I think we really showed what we can play like in the first half. It’s just too bad that we couldn’t play that way the entire game.”
“We played some of our best basketball,” said coach Jeff Judkins. “I think we just got a little tired in the second half. We weren’t quite as sharp. But I’m really proud of these ladies.”
And with that, the Cougars’ Cinderella run in the NCAA tournament came to an end. They were only the third No. 12 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 in tournament history.
Though they lost, let’s put the magnitude of what they accomplished in perspective.
BYU actually led for nearly 10 minutes against UConn. A basket by Lexi Eaton to start the second half, with 19:40 remaining in the game that made the score 31-30, marked the Huskies’ first second-half deficit of the entire season.
“They’re definitely beatable,” said Bailey, who had 14 points. “If we had come out the way we did in the first half, we could have gotten them. We kind of sat back on our heels and never regained balance. They’re definitely beatable.”
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he wasn’t surprised to be tested so vigorously by BYU.
“I knew it was going to be like this because they are not an easy matchup for anybody,” he said. “The way they played in the first half and the way we shot in the first half, that is the kind of stuff you have to expect in the tournament.”
Huskies forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis poured in a game-high 19 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. UConn outscored the Cougars in the paint, 36-12, and scored 27 second-half points.
“I thought we showed a lot of who we are that second half,” Auriemma said. “I thought we picked up the pressure in the second half. We made them play much faster. I thought Jeff did a great job controlling the tempo in the first half. They did a lot of crazy stuff. They were changing things up all the time, because they were scoring.”
UConn and BYU were tied, 37-37, after a putback by Bailey with less than 17 minutes remaining. But that was as close as the Cougars got the rest of the way.
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